Spinal Cord Injury Network and Accessible Arts united to participate in the Don’t DIS My ABILITY campaign offering a workshop titled My Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) / Imagine Me.
Emily arrived at the first workshop with no preconceived ideas, Emily has an established interest in photography and wanted to learn more about techniques and software, especially in a learning environment where people with quadriplegia could share their knowledge, tips and recommendations.
As a carer I interacted with the group but intrinsically I floated around running for the odd coffee when requested. This was an opportunity for Emily to learn and interface with others rather than anything to do with me as a carer. I respected the group’s intimate dynamics and left them to share and exchange ideas in confidence.
At the last session the self portraits were displayed with accompanying explanation, reasoning or prose, simple and succinct, giving an insight into the digitally altered photographs. I walked into the bland hall that had become home to the workshops and the impact of the eight enormous portraits was staggering. I studied the images and the accompanying words and I was humbled, I was educated, my eyes glistened as I blinked away a tear.
As I toured the presentation I was made aware that the group had been asked to imagine themselves presented to the public using photoshop software, exploring their image in a creative concept.The eight wheelchair users had, in a short time, produced intimate , strong, beautifully elegant and intensely personal works of art. The pieces were varied and unique just as the individuals are. I was overwhelmed with their brutally honest portrayals. Depth and intimacy burst from the images. I felt honored to have interacted in the group, shared some of the process and ultimately witness the phenomenal visual outcome.
I think the intensity of the portraits is a reflection of Sue Murray’s mature and nurturing personality while facilitating the course confidently. Sue encouraged and explored with each individual an aspect of their identity that related to their experience of spinal cord injury (SCI). The aim of this initial project was to foster understanding towards people living with disability, this may well be achieved if the images are presented and seen by the greater community. Through this experience the participants displayed an insight into themselves and their attitude to their altered self post injury. I admired the self-portraits, the individuals abstract entities exposed themselves, none were defined by their wheelchair use, none were bland or unexciting, I wish these images could be exhibited to educate society that wheelchair users are amazingly normal and breathtakingly able.
Emily’s image was inspired by her audacious disposition, her courage and fearlessness combined with her feline grace and elegance. Emily has shown strength, resilience and enormous inner beauty throughout her life changing trauma, her self-portrait was titled Felinity.
My SCI / Imagine Me and the Spinal Cord Injury Network (See here) will be hosting another series of workshops in 2014. Contact Sue Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org for details on how to participate.