PDN Photo of the Day

Picturing Great Interactions

For Great Interactions, a book out last month from Dewi Lewis Publishing, Polly Braden spent two years photographing in the schools, centers and communities led by MacIntyre, a national charity in England and Wales that works with children and adults with learning disabilities and autism. Combining images of clients going about their days with texts from interviews, the book, made to celebrate MacIntyre’s 50th anniversary, is a study in stories of patience, resilience and connection. In Braden’s photographs, teenagers and adults take part in activities ranging from rock climbing to grocery shopping, with or without the support of caregivers. They go to parties, work in a cafe, swim, garden and dance. While the images show the charity’s successes, the texts often describe the hardships disabled people face without sufficient resources. Says Braden in an interview with David Campany in the book, “The project is trying to look at what can be achieved for people when they are given good support, and to talk about what happens when they are not.”

As with Braden’s other projects, her focus is on gestures—there are clues about personality revealed in body language and eye contact, and many images look at hands and how people touch or reach each others. As she explains to Campany, “My background is in long-term documentary projects. When I am looking through the lens I’m always watching people’s reactions to each other – the gestures, glances, positions, the moments between. I wanted to photograph everyday situations. Playing games, cooking, laying the table. Photographically this can be difficult. When someone is making tea, for example, they generally face away from the camera. You need interesting things to photograph to make interesting images. I had to find ways to observe and show what’s going on, ways that would present interactions to the camera without manipulating them. So I found out about MacIntyre’s social events, get togethers, people’s work timetables, and all the different aspects of the charity’s work. I planned shoots right across the country, at the schools run by MacIntyre, homes, daycare centers, cafés and shops run by individuals with support, sports centers, Christmas parties and even a wedding.”

In Braden’s images, the focus is often shared between clients and caregivers—the voices of both appear in the text, and they’re often pictured together. The book argues that their interactions are as valuable for the staff as they are for the disabled, offering insight into living in the present. As Sophie Howarth writes in an essay in the book, “In these photographs we see those who are more able helping those who are less able to master everyday skills, build relationships and enjoy fulfilling lives. We also see those who are more vulnerable helping those who are less vulnerable practice attentiveness, grow in confidence and enjoy a deep sense of purpose.”

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