Updated: Sep 18
Photographing an individual with a disability is a very tricky subject to delve into. There are many things to be mindful off, How are you representing them? Are you being exploitative? Are you turning them into a spectacle? This type of subject needs to be approached with a level of sensitivity and consciousness that will come across in the images that you produce.
Nigerian Photographer, Adetona Omokanye successfully manages to represent a community of Dwarfs in his project ‘BEYOND 4ft- 10 inches’ with such respect and dignity, making it clear that there is no difference between a person with Dwarfism and a person without.
When asked what inspired him to do the project, He said, “When I was in school I had a friend that was a dwarf, one time during fellowship they wanted to cast him to perform a devil figure in a play because of his stature and the way that he looked, this disturbed me. I always saw people with dwarfism as normal, but I found that there were people who were afraid of them and didn’t see them the same way” Adetona’s personal experience with his friend drove him to embark on a project creating outstanding portraits of their community.
Confronting negative misconceptions concerning a certain group of people, needs to be done in such a way that you are not perpetuating those same stereotypes through the way that you Photograph your subjects. Adetona made a conscious effort not to sensationalise his subjects, his choice of colours and the settings which he photographed his subjects in was a deliberate effort to reflect the personalities of those in his images. The brightness of some of the background lightens up and adds a ‘bubbly’ feel to his series of images.
“I got to know my subjects first, I hung out with them and became friends which led me to gain their trust” says Adetona. This, I believe, is one of the best ways to work. Instead of just stomping into a community with your hefty camera, one of the most important things to do is to spend time with your subject, converse and get to know them.
Building up a friendship with them will give you more access when photographing your subjects. They will trust you more and will be willing to show you/ tell you more things which could further your project.
The technical details behind Adetona’s images plays in his favour. Aesthetically the images are beautiful, from the composition to the use of backlighting to create a shadow of his friend which is bigger than him, conveying that he may be small on the outside but he is big on the inside.
When asked if this was an ongoing project Adetona responded, “Yes, it's an ongoing project, recently I won a grant from Getty Images and they are expecting me to do more and tell more stories around the topic. I would like to go out of Lagos and travel to other states and see if the stories of some individuals there are similar to the ones in Lagos, so I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
Adetona Omokanye is a Documentary Photographer based in Lagos, Nigeria. His work navigates and positions at the fore-intertwined relationship between beauty, self-acceptance and environmental pollution. To view the rest of his project visit his website and Instagram.