How are art and disability connected for you?
A lot of my photography is self-portraiture, which sort of came about because I didn’t have a lot of disabled role-models within photography. When I was doing research for uni I’d google ‘photography disabled people,’ and all I’d get is stock images of people in wheelchairs stuck in front of steps, and a load of people pretending to be disabled — like that photo of Kylie Jenner where she’s sat in a wheelchair.
And it was kind of a coping mechanism, too. I’d take photos of myself to be like: this is me, this is what I look like, I’m OK with it and so should you be.
So at uni I created this project called ‘I’m Fine,’ not just to accept myself and my own disability, but to show other people that you can be beautiful at the same time as being different to everyone else.
Tell us a bit more about ‘I’m Fine.’
I advertised that something was happening, but I didn’t say what. People would walk into the room and just see me stood there, silent, like a statue. And behind me, there was a sign that said: ‘paint your palm and put a handprint wherever you feel comfortable on Becky’s body.’
For me, it was about wanting to see how long it would take for someone to put a handprint on my back, because throughout my whole life it’s always been, “I’m scared to touch you” or “I don’t want to break you.” And it’s just like, you wouldn’t say that to anyone else, so why would you say that to me, you know?
I don’t know if it’s a British thing, but people were so polite and so scared to do it. They were asking me if they could do it, and I was like, “er, I’m not supposed to be able to talk here.”
What it’s like being a disabled person in the art world on a practical level?
When I first started uni, I was very much like “I’m independent, I can do whatever I want.” But actually, my degree made me realise I might need a little extra support with some things.
So the first brief we had was to go out and do a shoot on location, and everyone was taking massive lights and all sorts of other equipment to get the perfect shot — but I couldn’t do that, so I really struggled. I did eventually end up getting the support I needed, but I think there’s a lot to be learnt about how creative courses can make briefs accessible and fit them around their students.
Now that I’ve left university and I’m an independent person, I have to figure out how to get to my own shoots — but it’s really difficult, because disabled people face costs on the daily that a non-disabled person wouldn’t even consider.
So for example, if I have a freelance job that’s the other side of London, I have to get a taxi there and back (because it’s not like I can just get on the tube), and all the money I earn from the shoot just ends up going on transport. I’ve had to turn down work because I can’t afford to go to the shoot, and it’s frustrating. So you really have to think about access in every aspect of what you’re doing.
Image credit to Selin Esendagli
What’s your next project?
I want to move the project on to other disabled women. I want to photograph them, and I want to explore what makes them feel powerful and independent; now that I’m confident in who I am, I want to help other people feel confident about themselves.
One thing you wish people knew about disability?
My go-to thing that I always say is don’t pity disabled people — just because we’re disabled doesn’t mean we’re not able to do things. Just learn, you know?