My friend Sean introduced me to the work of South African photographer Angela Buckland . She is the mother of an undiagnosed disabled child and she takes up the subject of parenting disabled children in her photographs. The recently published Zip Zip My Brain Harts includes images from five different series. The first, Dysmorphic Series, deals with the frustration that Buckland felt as her child went through numerous inconclusive tests. Images of her son Nikki’s skull are juxtaposed with those of his physical abnormalities. These photos are haunting and disturbing, but never freakish.
The second series, named Stickytape Juice Collection after the words of a cerebral palsied child with a love for language, are of clothing “lovingly” altered to accomodate and disguise a child’s disabilities. These shots also raise conflicting feelings: is it better to try to hide a child’s disability, or be frank about it and deal with the stares?
“Where’s Nikki?” named after Buckland’s son’s tendency to run away, explores the stages that parents of disabled children are said to go through – shock, loss/grief, rage, confusion, relief, acceptance, and hope. My favorites of these are of Sibongile, a Zulu girl with cerebral palsy. Specifically, I love the one of her being carried by her caretaker aunt, piggyback style.
The photos in the final series, “Shadow Catching,” are elusive, mysterious, and beautiful, as many disabled children are to their parents.
The accompanying text written by researchers of disability issues is worth reading, too. Although South Africa’s cultural mix is different from that of Japan, these words from the introduction apply here as well:
“There is a tendency for disability in South Africa to be a secret. The challenges that face families of people with disability are also often hidden away. Part of the reason for this secrecy may be that disability is sometimes seen as a shame or a disgrace, something to hide away, a source of stigma. These reactions are rooted in the idea that disability is freakish or monstrous, an idea that continues to haunt the ways in which disability is seen, and to affect the experiences of disabled people and their families.
“But what if disability were considered ordinary or everyday? What would looking at disability be like then? What if disability were considered not so much as the sign of incontrovertible difference, but as just one among many differences that there are already between people?”