When I was told my new born daughter had Down’s syndrome, I looked at her sleeping in my arms and rather than see my baby girl I saw an image of a middle aged woman, white socks, pudding basin haircut, holding her ageing mother’s hand in some supermarket. This immediate mental image was hard to push away, then, it was my only reference.
Now 16 years later I watch my daughter and her friends forging their identities, aspiring to the same images of beauty, of love, of popularity as their typically developing peers. ‘Becoming’ celebrates their individuality as they struggle, like their peers, to become who they are.
My portraits are about the individuals and not the condition. They aim to challenge out-dated attitudes and prejudice by offering an alternative photographic representation of people with Down’s syndrome. Stereotypes, which can be either positive or negative, are one dimensional. They dismiss the complexity and depth that people experience both with themselves and in relationship to others. They deny the person any ‘real’ identity.
My position as a photographer and mother of a child with Down’s syndrome has been central to my work. Being a photographer/mother influences the quality of relationship I form with my subjects, a quality perhaps closer to kinship. I feel a resonance, as though when we look at each other, we not only see the other but we also see ourselves. The photograph is directly referring to my own experience too. For both photographer and subject there is a unified feeling of working together to actively create social change. I believe that this shifts ‘being photographed’ from a passive event into an act of empowerment.’
‘Becoming’ is one series of portraits within a larger body of work made over the last 8 years. These include: ‘Disclosure’, ‘Up Close’, ‘Portraits’, ‘Ordinary Love’ and ‘Safe Haven’. The work tours both in the UK and overseas as part of Shifting Perspectives.