I recently had the opportunity to make some unique portraits. I was contacted by a non-profit in Berkeley that provided information and resources for the disabled. The organization had originally tried to purchase stock photography for its website, but contacted me after experiencing an interesting (and frustrating) problem: stock photos of “disabled” people are almost 100% photos of an able-bodied model sitting in a wheelchair. Such imagery would ring false with the organization’s clientele, so original photography was a must.
This was an exciting opportunity for me. Aside from being interesting work for a great client, I would obviously be filling a real void by creating portraits of real people with a wide variety of real disabilities.
My client was located on in the newly built Ed Roberts Campus, a state of the art hyper-accessible facility housing several disability rights advocacy and service organizations. These groups had both clients and team members with disabilities, giving us a great range of portrait subjects, right inside the building we would be working in.
On the day of the photo shoot, I arrived and set up in a large multi-purpose room. An open call had gone out to a couple dozen specific people, plus their wider network. The folks who came and participated had a wide range of physical and intellectual disabilities. But each one—like all my clients—had a unique story to tell.
We had a non-stop flow of people for several hours, and the whole experience was terrific. When all was said and done, and I went back to review the images, those that stood out to me were the people in chairs. I had never really thought about how a wheelchair could be unique, but there was an endless variety. Each chair was a different size and shape, and had customizations and accessories tailored specifically to the owner. Thus, the chairs became like distinctive pieces of wardrobe, showing off the wearer’s personality. This added depth to each portrait.
Here are some of my favorite portraits from that day: