Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stares

People with visible disabilities are no strangers to stares. Not all stares are bad. We invite them at ADAPT actions, the Disability Pride Parade, and at local disability rights functions. We want people to see our diversity, our power, and our unity in these political actions.

But when we’re going about the mundane tasks of our lives, stares can be at the very least, a nuisance. At its worst, is a searing invasion into our privacy.

People stare many different ways. There is the open mouth-gaping stare; the glancing, you-can’t-catch-me-staring stare; the double-take stare; the self-conscious, but-I-cannot-help-myself stare; the 360°, I-cannot-believe-my-eyes stare; the judgmental, why-are-you-here-interrupting-my-peace stare; and the most benign--the blank, staring-off-into-space-I-am-not-sure-I-even-saw-anything stare.

Young people with disabilities can be more vulnerable to stares than older folks who have, hopefully, hardened themselves to them. However, once grown, stares still leave psychological scars that can inhibit a peoples’ ability to include themselves in the larger community. I have heard many people with disabilities say they enjoyed the anonymity of online communities, because the other members get a chance to see “me as I am; not my disability.”

Not even fifty years ago, if a man paid a quarter, he (he, because it was considered to be much too disturbing for a woman) could gawk unabashedly at people with disabilities in sideshow attractions.

Photo of Kevin Connolly posing in front of several of his photographs. Photo by Deirdre Eitel, Bozeman Daily Chronicle.Now comes Kevin Connolly. He is staring back… with his camera. What started with one photograph at someone staring at him, has become a collection of 32,000 pictures, from 31 cities, in 15 countries and 1 terrific website: The Rolling Exhibition.

In the biographical information on the site, Kevin says he grew up like most kids in Bozeman Montana, playing and getting dirty. He was born legless and healthy in 1985. His preferred mode of transportation is a skateboard. From that vantage point, he began taking pictures of people’s stares.

In an NPR interview, Connolly says he rarely looks through the viewfinder when he takes the pictures. He snaps the photos on the fly, literally shooting from the hip. He must certainly have an uncanny sense of space and timing to get the pictures he has captured.

The website shows only 45 pictures of his collection of 32,000. Each one is fascinating, unique and leaves you wanting more. His art would interest any person, disabled or not. The Rolling Exhibition is primarily a presentation-based project. However, Connolly does sell his pictures and shows them in galleries.

All the photos will have an air of familiarity for people with visible disabilities. The stares may be out of a sense of confusion, disbelief, surprise, approval, dread, or just plain snooping. Whatever the subject's reason, Connolly’s stunning pictures capture a part of our disability culture that I have not seen before.

I like staring back. It is claiming our power as people who normally have little of it in public places. I just may start carrying my camera too.

Photo by Deirdre Eitel, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

2 comments:

Big Noise said...

(published for Charles, by Big Noise)

I stare, but for different reasons.

As an independent Living Advocate I do stare at people, but often it is at the people, not the chair or the disability. To me one chair is about like another, unless it can do stuff like climb stairs. I often stare and think, Will I see them at the office, and if so what can I help them with? I suppose I give the approving stare at times because I love seeing people with visible disabilities out and about. Too many people are shut in their homes, not by lack of accessibility, though that can be a problem, but because they are imprisoned by their own self consciousness and the stares of others.

Charles M. Smith

Carlos Romero said...

This guy, Connoly, is one of the biggest example of attitude and power of life I've ever seen in my life.