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Inspiring photography project aims to challenge perceptions of disabilities

Megan Ogley and Natalie

[T]aking photographs of people with prosthetic limbs may seem an unlikely project but for University of Cumbria photography student Megan Ogley it made perfect sense.

Disability became an issue very close to home for the 21 year old from Pontefract when her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Connotations around the word ‘disabled’ led to debates between the University of Cumbria student and her father which prompted Megan to research more about the definition and to canvas the opinions of people who have learned to live with a change to their physical abilities. Two charities, Steel Bones and PACE, introduced Megan to members of the prosthetics community and she encouraged them to share their stories and model for her.

Her exhibition, called Capability, included a series of images depicting the remarkable strength, capabilities and power of individuals who had either been born without a limb or lost one in later life.

Natalie, one of Megan’s subjects, was injured when she was hit by a drink driver.

“I am passionate about communicating the fundamental normality and everyday competence of people with disabilities,” Megan said. “The images show people with amputations and prosthetics on display, portraying their strength in an activity of their choice. ‘Disability’ by definition, refers to a deficiency or dysfunction and as such evokes negative associations. Yet, although all the people portrayed here lack a limb, they do not consider themselves as less able than others.”

Over 60 people contacted Megan to take part in the project with each selecting their own location where they felt comfortable being photographed.

With case studies coming forward from across the country, a successful bid for support from the university’s Hadfield Trust allowed the BA (Hons) photography student to travel far and wide to meet people from a variety of backgrounds.

“All the people I met were very passionate about telling their stories and were interested in the project as they haven’t heard or seen anything about disability before within photography,” Megan said. “As a unique twist on the traditional photobook, I had an illustrator, Hazel Mason, hand draw the models, which was a unique form of seeing the traditional image transformed and added an extra thank you to the guest. Also, I have always been a fan of the traditional photobook and believe that the genre should be kept alive. “

Colleagues and academics have been inspired by her work.

“By wanting to champion and empower her subjects, she has created a poignant and powerful photographic series of great maturity and sensitivity,” Rob Sara, lecturer in photography at the Institute of the Arts, said. “Months of dedication and professionalism have seen a complex collaborative process evolve between a photographer and volunteers throughout the country, who wanted to join the project. The exhibition prints and must-have accompanying book are both epic and intimate in their portrayal, highlighting the potential of photography as an uplifting documentary medium through which Megan has addressed the themes of misconception and prejudice. What more could a university wish for, than to see a photography graduate, make meaningful, thoughtful work, whilst engaging with and contributing to society for the better of all our understanding?”

And while the project has served its’ original purpose, for Megan it has made a lasting impression.

“For myself, the project has been incredible; I have had the opportunity to meet new people, do the work I love and make new friends. I have since be chosen to show my work at Free Range photographic exhibition in London and had another 175 clients show interest in being part of the project meaning it will keep growing over the next few years. I may be the photographer, but I feel lucky enough to talk and meet the people whose stories wanted to be shown, I’m just there to help them express it.”

Megan graduates from the university in November and is now looking for her next career move. Her website is: www.meganogley.co.uk

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