Disabling / Enabling Photography On Freak Photography and Diane Arbus's Portraits
PDF, 24 pages
The article examines the representation of people with cognitive and physical disabilities in two sets of photographs, (a) the commercial portraits of American and European show freaks from the 19th and early 20th century and (b) artistic images made by American photographer Diane Arbus between the 1950s and the 1970s.It refutes the accusation that these pictures reduce their models to, and sensationally display them as, passive objects, thus exacerbating the social exclusion of handicapped people in general. For quite apart from the fact that the disabled models were actively involved in the creation of their portraits, the relationship of disability and non-disability is reflected in the resulting photographs in a highly ambivalent manner. In both corpuses pictures reproducing the contradistinction between these terms are juxtaposed with images undermining it. Above all, however, both groups of photographs deconstruct the very norm of non-disability: the older ones by creatively redeveloping the human body, the more recent ones by absurdly doubling its monstrosity.
Jérôme Bel’s Disabled Theater, a dance piece featuring eleven actors with cognitive disabilities from Zurich's Theater HORA, has polarized audiences worldwide. Some have celebrated the performance as an outstanding exploration of presence and representation; others have criticized it as a contemporary freak show. This impassioned reception provokes important questions about the role of people with cognitive disabilities within theater and dance—and within society writ large. Using Disabled Theater as the basis for a broad, interdisciplinary discussion of performance and disability, this volume explores the intersections of politics and aesthetics, inclusion and exclusion, and identity and empowerment. Can the stage serve as a place of emancipation for people with disabilities? To what extent are performers with disabilities able to challenge and subvert the rules of society? What would a performance look like without an ideology of ability?