David Hevey

After reading his essay, The Enfreakment of Photography, I decided to look a bit more at David Hevey and what kind of work he is doing. He calls his work a ‘post-tragedy form of disability representation’. He faults postmodern theory since it does not take into full account the distribution, audience and production of images, and he (along with Jo Spence) distrusts academic nit-picking since he believes it obliterates larger issues of class with psychoanalytic analysis (according to Mary Warner Marien in Photography: A Cultural History). Although at the time of researching his personal website seems to be down, on http://www.shapeartists.org.uk (a website promoting the work of disabled artists), Hevey is acclaimed as: “Arguably the UK’s leading diversity-media professional, David Hevey is a key creative: a filmmaker, producer, writer & digital-media professional running David Hevey Productions, based in Bloomsbury, London in the UK.”

Unfortunately most of the work that is available on the website is stills from his documentary films with little or no explanation:

Some of Hevey’s still photography is available online, but without explanation of the project aims or artist intentions, they are merely portraits of disabled people. One of the more interesting and thought-provoking images is this one of a goat carcass in a wheelchair, a publicity image for the BBC2 film Freak Out:

The idea being of course that a person in a wheelchair is ‘just a lump of meat’, ‘better off dead.’ Fortunately, there is a series of Hevey’s films available on YouTube, short productions about disabled people called Shape Creatives. Each film focuses on one disabled person and how they are living with their disability – the idea is that the impairment is actually part of their lives, and they are not only living with it, but are at times making a living from it. Stephen Bunce works as an actor in casualty simulations, where the MOD or emergency services set up or re-enact an emergency situation. Bunce, as a double amputee, uses his disability to play the role of a person who has suffered a double amputation of his legs in the incident. Melodie Holliday is dyslexic, but moved into visual arts as a way to avoid the necessity of textual language discourse. The films seem to follow a pattern – not just showing how the disabled people overcome their disability, but how they use their impairments to improve their lives, to the point where the impairment becomes an integral part of their lives. The films are positive in that they show not a simple overcoming of societal barriers, but a personal development, an embracing of the impairment to the extent that it becomes not something that is lived with in spite of the odds, but something that is actually adding value. This is a really important element. I want to show some of these films to my protagonists.

Hevey’s website says: “Creating projects across heritage, arts, culture and media, his approach is characterised by his innovation in form and his powerful delivery of clients’ and people’s stories.”

I contacted David Hevey, but he said he was too busy to even watch any of my photofilms! He wrote:

Dear Carl

Thanks for this: I wish you the very best but I am afraid I have no time to view other documentarian films, and I never feel qualified to comment on other creatives works anyway.

My work is about difference and the mainstream, so, again, I wouldn’t really be in a position to comment on specific impairment/disability representation, either.

But thanks for your kind comments re Shape Creatives.

Best wishes,

David Hevey

Since first attempting to view Hevey’s website, I have managed to view a number of his films here. Although many of the films invite disabled people to speak about their experiences, they tend mainly to deal with discrimination, rejection and other negative societal attitudes. As he wrote to me, his films deal with ‘difference and mainstream’, and how difference is generally stigmatized and not accepted by the mainstream. Probably the most informative for me is his BBC documentary Freak Out, which explores the disability experience in a society which places singular emphasis on bodily appeal. He presents ideas in a very clear and informative way, without coming across as patronizing or critical. Kudos.

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