Social photography, socially-engaged project, tolerance for “otherness” – let us dismiss these buzzwords that so often come to mind when people with disabilities become models in a photo shoot. Those were not the reason why I chose my protagonists.
The term “intellectual disability” refers to a condition when the development of human intelligence has stopped at the preschool stage. Therefore, people with intellectual disabilities preserve the qualities of a child, which manifest themselves in the natural ability to remain in contact with each other and seek contact with another person, amongst other aspects. The child knows what he or she wants, and expresses that. Excitement, longing, sadness or joy, desires are immediately manifested. Expressing feelings comes naturally. Yet, the child is also defenceless. He or she does not pose, but exposes themselves.
My models were exactly like that – spontaneous, they did not stage calculated poses or behaviour. Portraying them offered me a sense of renewed access to feelings and manners of self-expression that so frequently become muffled and repressed in adult life due to social norms.
I have chosen the most classic and minimalistic form of portrait. Uniform background, no props. I wanted the feelings and gestures resulting from the genuine strength of being yourself to remain at the heart of the images.
The project “Contact” was created at the Rehabilitation Centre for People with Mental Disabilities in Puck. The participants were people between 25 and 50 years old with profound and severe disabilities.