The idea that we need to focus our lenses on people with disabilities and special needs came to me while reading Daryl’s Lang’s (PDNPulse) post last week. He mentioned a new book by the well-known portrait, celebrity and ad photographer, Richard Corman. Corman has photographed the Special Olympics since 1991. In his book, I Am Proud: The Athletes of Special Olympics, Corman has captured the athlete’s joy and successes. While Corman is famous for his photography of professional athletics, celebrities and for advertising work, his sensitive treatment of Olympic athletes has greater meaning for him.
Organizations that support the efforts of the disabled need inexpensive images for newsletters and fund drives. And these images provide inspiration to all of us.
A few years ago I toured a complex of buildings and services for individuals with developmental disabilities in Chicago called Misericordia. Run by the Sisters of Charity, the goals are: ‘… maximizing (the residents’) level of independence and self-determination within an environment that fosters spirituality, dignity, respect and enhancement of quality of life’. We had lunch in the restaurant at Misericordia operated mostly by residents with Down’s Syndrome. I was singularly impressed with the happiness and pride in their work that these individuals expressed and evoked. It was one of the most joyful places I have visited. (And the food was good too.)
Down’s Syndrome seems to hard-wire sweetness and love into the personalities of those who have the condition. But equally inspirational are others who have become disabled through accidents, war injuries or illness and yet forge on with courage and humor. Especially inspirational and humbling are the athletes.
For someone like myself who considers taking the groceries out of the car a major workout, the idea of skiing on one leg or taking a hard block in wheelchair rugby is awesome. And by that I mean ‘awe inspiring’ as well as ‘cool’.
The challenges facing people with disabilities and their families are huge but don’t fall into the trap of featuring your models in negative situations that evoke overwhelming despair. Also don’t over sentimentalize their lives. Instead celebrate the positive: individuality, strength, courage, joy, humor, athletic ability and unique talents.
Corman is quoted in an interview in the Huffington Post, “I want our children to see them (the Special Olympic athletes) and to understand that the people in the pictures are strong, not weak”. He also quotes Kofi Annan. He (Annan) said, "Disabilities are yet another manifestation of global diversity. Let us always be committed to the fundamental principles of dignity and equality for all human beings."
Take a look at Corman's wonderful images on his website.
Interview in Huffington Post
Review of a film about professional level wheelchair rugby.