Snap! 2004

    Star rating: 3/5.

    Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London, Until 8 August.

    This exhibition, organised by Mencap, aims to “help increase understanding and empathy to contribute to the ultimate aim of ending discrimination against people with learning difficulties”. Does it do this? No, write Eve Rank and Adele Medhurst.

    Many of the pictures are very good. Our favourites are My Pencils by Ann Newbury, which is really colourful, and Visitors by Sarah Newman, which shows a pair of shoes and whose caption reads: “This picture is about my father visiting my flat and showing me respect by taking off his shoes and leaving them at the door.”

    What is confusing is the way some pictures define people by their medical needs. For example, one joyful picture – Delight – shows a little girl. The caption reads: “Sally has complex and severe medical needs. This picture captures Sally’s happiness and enthusiasm for life even though she was in hospital only a few days earlierÉ” Why do we get to hear about Sally’s medical needs?

    Another caption reads: “I often wonder what it must be like to be Cheryth. She has severe learning difficulties, autistic tendencies and wears callipers. Yet she enjoys life.” Yeeuuck!

    Eve Rank and Adele Medhurst work for learning difficulties charity Voice UK.

    Second opinion

    Star rating: 3/5. 

    Snap is really two exhibitions in one. The first consists of pictures taken by people with learning difficulties, while the second shows pictures of people with learning difficulties taken by their family and carers. Unfortunately, by mixing the two, the exhibition detracts from both, writes Angela Easterling.

    The portraits photographed by carers are full of love. For example, “A dream come true”, a glorious picture of a man holding up his teaching certificate and punching the air, is full of pride and energy. The portraits by carers are all life-affirming. Although they point to a disability, they do so with huge love, sympathy and warmth.

    The photographs taken by people with learning difficulties are an altogether different proposition. No sympathy is needed here. Instead, the pictures show invention and real observation.

    I loved “My pencils” – a photograph of bands of abstract colour created by the camera catching the out-of-focus pencils. This picture, and others, are taken by people without a thought for their disability and so we look at them too without thinking of their disability.

    If Mencap wants to remove barriers, then perhaps next year we can have two exhibitions. One showing the love and pride carers feel for those they look after, and, for me, a more important exhibition showing the images created by people with this disability. They have proved in this exhibition that their vision is extraordinary. They do not need any label of excuse.

    Angela Easterling is a professional photographer.

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