Anne Geddes, Protecting Our Tomorrows: Portraits of Meningococcal Disease

One emotion that unites all of us as parents is the instinctive drive to ensure that our children are safe and protected. In allowing them to grow and flourish, we protect the future of our world.”

Geddes is foremost a photographer of children, especially infants, under very soft ethereal lighting. Her website states that she shows the “beauty, purity and vulnerability of children“. Her images have a kind of diaphanous cloudlike quality about them. In collaboration with Novartis Vaccines and the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO) she took a series of images of disabled people who had suffered from meningococcal disease in infancy, and has quite literally put disability on a pedestal:

She says that the images were taken as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the disease among parents and thereby to help its prevention.

Meningococcal disease is a sudden, aggressive illness that can lead to death within 24 hours of onset. Babies, toddlers and adolescents are the most vulnerable, with infants under 12 months of age at greatest risk. Unfortunately, many of those who do survive are often left with life-long complications, such as brain damage, learning disabilities, hearing loss and amputation of limbs.

By photographing across cultures, Geddes shows that disability is indiscriminate and can strike any family, regardless of race or ethnicity. Each image is presented with a short text including some biographical information and some positive remarks:

Victoria (5 years) from Spain

Victoria was one of the saddest little girls I’d ever met. She had only recently suffered the loss of both legs due to meningococcal septicemia, and her parents travelled with her to the shoot in London in the hope that the trip would raise her spirits and help rebuild her self-esteem. The magic of digital photography allowed Victoria to see her image on screen after the shoot, and her sad little face eventually broke into a beautiful smile.

Ellie May and twin sister Sophie (9 years) from the UK

Ellie May was just 16 months old when she was stricken with a near-fatal case in 2004. She survived, but not without the amputation of both her arms and legs. Her mother said that every time Ellie came back from surgery there was less and less of her. Ellie’s sister Sophie thankfully wasn’t affected — a painful reminder for the rest of their lives of such random devastation.

Harvey (8 years) from the UK

Harvey was just 2 years old when he was infected with meningococcal septicemia. As a result, he had to have his legs and three and a half fingers on his right hand amputated. His left hand is also partially paralyzed. Harvey is a keen athlete despite his amputations. In addition to being a swimmer, he sprints on blade prosthetics that have enabled him to fulfill his dream of running.

I like the idea of combining the photographs with text, and although I do not produce such stylised images, I can appreciate her skill as a studio photographer and creative artist. Geddes says that she has incorporated the idea of a birds nest in each of the images, and this is at times more obvious than others. According to Geddes, for her “…a beautiful little bird’s nest, and the ingredients used in its building represent love, nurture, family, protection, hope and, most importantly, a deceptive strength.”

I like the fact that the project has a meaning outside simply showing disabled persons as brave or heroic, there is a point to the photographs outside of depicting disability, which is raising awareness and at least a step in the right direction towards prevention of a disease that is vaccine treated. I also like the fact that although the pictures are certainly positive, she hasn’t tried to show the subjects smiling through against the odds; the pictures do not slip into cliché or saccharine sentimentality.

We must continue to make the health and wellbeing of our young people a priority. They speak to our future. They are our global opportunity for a better world. And they represent our eternal chance at new beginnings.”

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