Steve Kean has experienced his own journey living with spina bifida and sought to capture the moments of others with the same condition, that happens from birth during which the spine grows irregularly.
Kean’s intention was for the exhibit to present portraits of people living with it and how that condition takes over their bodies.
Kean displayed two different portraits in his series: one coloured and one in black and white.
“The coloured image gives the person in the photo the chance to be seen the way they want to be seen in every day life,” he said. For example, there was a coloured photo that showed a singer holding a microphone and smiling.
But, the other portrait allows people to focus on how spina bifida has reshaped their back,” he said. With that same person, the black and white photo showed the texture of the man’s back.
Kean said he hoped the images challenge the viewer to understand how people with disabilities find purpose and continue to live with passion.
“We are not broken, crippled or different. We are beautiful. I want to give people with spina bifida who I shoot choice and personal power, something that ‘the system’ has taken away from us on a daily basis,” he said.
First-year student Daniel Tadros was born with spina bifida and said people with physical disabilities need encouragement like Steve Kean’s artwork.
“We are seen as people who have to overcome a lot but everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses,” said Tadros.
Event coordinator, Michael Thompson, said the purpose of the exhibit was to highlight the nature of the neural tube birth defect, as described by the province’s Spina Bifida association’s website, as well as challenge some of the myths regarding the abilities of those with the condition.
“Kean’s work challenges the perceptions of disability and ability, how we view art and culture and from whose perspectives,” said Thompson.
Tadros said he would love to be a part of Kean’s artwork and that the exhibit was a great way to inspire others, with or without spina bifida.
“It’s important that we all come together and have a voice so that we can show that we are no different. We are just ordinary people,” he said.
This was Kean’s first time showcasing his artwork at a school’s gallery and he was very pleased to see people attend the exhibit.
The photographer said, “It’s lovely to hear what people say about my work and to know that I may have moved someone emotionally by what I have done.”
Thompson said that the response to the exhibit was very positive and that Kean was able to bring a deeply unique and personal perspective.
“It challenged people’s perspective of body image and its connection to self-esteem, empowerment and beauty,” said Thompson.