This photo exploration by Mason-Lovering looks at the connection between disability and sexuality. All of the subjects are people with physical, intellectual, learning, psychiatric and neurological disabilities. The photographer developed a personal connection with the subjects in order to direct, compose and create photographic images which represent elements significant to each person who poses: “In this way the “subjects” moved beyond the traditional passive subject-role and became collaborators themselves, enriching the personal, political and artistic aspects of the project.” This is in a very similar vein to the way I have chosen to work. She uses a range of approaches, from straight documentary or snapshot to studio work and even photomontage or collage. As such, each image is constructed to look the way the subjects themselves wish to be portrayed.
The collection of images has also met with mixed reception, from those who are horrified by the depiction of nude disabled people to those who see it as an inspirational and honest representation of human sexuality. One of the participants is quoted as saying: “There is a dearth of empowering, positive, sexy images of disabled people and we want to be a part of the movement to change this.” In my opinion, the number of images dealing with disability and sex is larger than that of disabled people going about their daily lives. Perhaps that’s because these images are more risqué and crowd pulling than the everyday ones. Are these images really empowering, or is this simply the next stage on from Arbus’s institutionalised ‘freaks’? What do people really see when they contemplate such imagery?
As Jenny Morris (1998, p 14) points out, the sexist and heterosexist attitudes in society dictate what kind of appearance (women in particular) should strive for; as such, “disabled women are either attractive in spite of their impairment or unattractive because of their impairment. There is no room for what impairment and difference mean to us.”
In a subsequent exhibition, Outing Disability, Mason-Lovering invited subjects who do not fit into binary notions of gender to express their sexuality in a double ‘coming out’ – acknowledging both disability and gender in an inclusive and collaborative way. Mason says her work “focuses on creating platforms for people who experience multiple discriminations” working through large-scale portraits and mirrored panels to create works that challenge perceptions and demand viewer participation: the reflection serves to disrupt normal vision and question audience projections and understanding of self imagery.