Thursday, November 29

studio exploits

Last spring I met a photographer through a mutual friend. At the time, he was doing a portrait series of people doing what they do, like aerial fabrics or dish washing. My friend thought it would be cool to get some vaulting shots with me.

Copyright 2012 Daniel Peebles
Honestly, I was a little hesitant to put myself out there--remember I'm the girl that found herself on an amputee porn site. Then I procrastinated setting something up until dust started collecting on his business card, which eventually made its way to my 'to do' pile, which has actually become a pile of things that never get done.

Until, a month ago I ran into the same photog waiting for a latté at Starbucks. It seemed like fate, so I emailed him that afternoon, and the following week, we met for coffee.

The series of people doing what they do was mostly done, he said. But he was interested in doing some studio portraits with me. He assured me that he had no intention of exploiting my disability, that he didn't need my arm to be the focal point of the photograph. He did want to capture some of my natural mannerisms, like my version of crossing arms, above.

Then we talked about nudity. Let me just say my first reaction was ABSOLUTELY NOT. I immediately had visions of some scandalous photo of me showing up as a sex tape on YouTube, never mind that it wasn't even a video and no sex was involved. Paris Hilton was a lesson to us all.

But when I got thinking about it, it occurred to me that I wasn't an heiress to a hotel fortune, and that that kind of exposure might be exactly what I wanted. Now before you imagine a centerfold in Maxim, hear me out...

Most of my life, I avoided exposure. Whether it was my tiny arm peaking out from a shirt sleeve, or a stray feeling that got loose from my generally cool composure, I went to great lengths to hide myself. I needed shirts with longer sleeves and nothing form-fitting that showed my deformed torso. And I excelled at most everything because I needed to appear stronger than I felt.

But that was then, and this is now. Now I'm learning to accept who I really am, and I'm starting to want to share the news. Revealing parts of me that I heretofore had cloaked with shame might be liberating and powerful, I thought.

Expose away, I told the photographer on the day of the shoot. Exploitation is my middle name. Disability is my badge. OK, so I wasn't that confident, and I was never completely naked either. But if I want to put a new face on disability, I have to be willing to let it be mine.

When I stopped over to see the results, he had already made a print. I'm looking over my left shoulder, my side turned toward the camera. There's a look of steady calm in my eye. At first I wasn't sure what my expression was, but it's either steady calm, or 'I'm about to pass out from low blood sugar.'

It wasn't as earth-shattering as I expected. Turns out I still have love handles and acne scars; there's definitely better-looking handicapped folks out there. I was surprisingly nonplused.

But if my photo ends up in a gallery, starting any conversation about disability and...well, anything, then it was worth it.

And yes, you will have to wait for the show.