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A mother's depiction of disability

khinchey's picture

I saw this photoset last week and was immediatly struck by the connection to our projects with Reva. A mother in New Zealand took these pictures of her 4 year old who has only her right hand and suffered from Hirschsprung's Disease as an infant. The mother/photographer uses technology to create insane environments around her daughter and the pictures are simply stunning. Not only did this project evoke thoughts about how meaningful this must have been to work on as a mother but it made me think about how we portray children and their imaginations.  "For both of us, it was first and foremost a way for us to bond," Spring told Mic. "For Violet, I hope that she sees herself open to endless possibilities in the future."

These pictures are so appropriate for a four year old girl. They capture all the fantastical dreams she probably has as a little princess. She looks beautiful and happy. At face value this is just a really amazing set of images. These pictures defy the stereotype that young girl will face about her appearance for the rest of her life. I hope that this is just one example of how her family is teaching her to ignore the ableist comments and boundaries from a very young age.

One other thing to note is that in the final picture her mother has switched her arms. She writes "Photographer's Note: the last image of the Giraffe showing my daughter with the wrong limb difference is intentional for creative purposes and continuity of light and narrative."  I thought we might talk more in class about the ramfications of that and how that connects with our questioning of ethical depictions. 




Hummingbird's picture

I was struck by what Riva said last week about these photos – about the way they seemed to distract from or overcompensate for the daughter's missing limb. I am thinking of the ways the photographer's close relationship to the subject (her daughter) complicates her portrayal. The way the mother/photographer is most likely the person who gives consent for her daughter, since her daughter is only four, and the way her own desire to produce something aesthetic may be impacted by and may impact the way she gives consent for her daughter. Something about that feels not entirely ethical for me – I wonder whether the photographer/mother's desire to produce art may hinder or compromise her ability to be her daughter's best advocate. 

At the same time, I imagine this project could have been quite inclusive of the daughter's desires. khinchey writes, "These pictures are so appropriate for a four year old girl. They capture all the fantastical dreams she probably has as a little princess." If this is truly the relationship the daughter has with the fantastical world and that she's shared with her mother, then yes, wow, what a way to see yourself re-imagined in the place and position you'd like yourself to be! In a way, it reminds me of the fantastical drawings we did with Riva last Tuesday. 
And yet – the fantastic nature of the pictures is so highly gendered, so fulfilling of traditional expectations of "little girl's" desires and dreams that I wonder how much of this is something the daughter herself wanted and how much is something she's been trained to want by parents who don't want her to feel "different." In Eli Clare's Exile and Pride, Eli writes about how being disabled freed him from many of the gendered expectations his sister felt growing up – how he was enabled to play with gender and exist unquestioned in a kind of in-between gender space. Of course, he acknowledges that this comes from the hurtful assumption that people with disabilities are asexual and not to be objects of sexual desire. But, there were positives in not feeling forced to do hair and paint nails, dress up, etc. I wonder how a parent's push for their daughter to dress up, be a princess or fairy, pose in these soft-focus highly saturated fantastical photos, pressures her to conform to a particular expression of femininity that she herself may not fully subscribe to. Perhaps her parent's desire for her to not be ostracized for her missing limb result in an overcompensation and over-traditionalization of their daughter's gender identity?
I guess I'm stuck on the intersection here between disability and gender identity – on the intersections in identities more generally.