You’re Just Little is a photographic exhibition that revealed the challenges, obstacles and societal assumptions people with Dwarfism face on a daily basis and ran between 4th – 14th October 2018 at Spectrum Cultural Hub.
How participation started
The initial proposal for the exhibition was to show my photography and challenge the gallery space by bringing the works down to my eye level.
Kathryn, Studio Director at Spectrum Cultural Hub, suggested I carry out some research as part of the project, which resulted in the questionnaire Dwarfism, Arts and Representation over the summer of 2018.
It became very apparent and confirmed what most of us in the dwarf community know – that there is woeful lack of honest representation, let alone the opportunity for us to control the narrative of how our bodies and experiences are told in arts and cultural settings.
I often talk about wanting to share Dwarf voices and this proved the perfect opportunity to. How often do we get a chance to tell our stories in a gallery space where we are not the object?
I also wanted to see how receptive the community would be to participating. Because, understandably, as a community, we tend to run for the nearest hiding place when anyone says dwarfism and arts, culture and media in the same sentence.
The power of Social Media – kinda
I published a call out for participants with a wobbly video on the Hello Little Lady Facebook Page, with a week’s deadline.
This video was viewed over 1k by the date the photos needed to be submitted. The request was for Dwarf people to send in 3 photographs at their point of view moving around the participants’ environment.
Participants ranged from 3ft 2” to 4ft 8” with a range of dwarfisms living in the U.K., U.S.A., and Australia.
I worked on the premise that 1% would reply. 10 people sent about 50 photos of what life is like moving around the environment at their height. There were many more who wanted to get involved had there been more time.
All participants were recruited through Facebook. There was no response from the call out videos placed on Instagram and Twitter. The latter’s lack of support surprised, saddened and frustrated me considering the amount of awareness-raising and advocacy figures that Dwarfism has on that platform.
Personal Impact of Participant Photos
It’s been a humbling experience to receive the photos. At the time I felt overwhelmed and incredibly grateful at the responses, as I wasn’t sure if there would be any interest, or if the community had the confidence and the trust in what I was aiming to achieve.
The photographs have had their own impact on me personally. The hanging of these photos was simultaneously powerful and empowering. As I pegged each one up, I realised that I had never seen the world reflected back at me through another person’s eyes of a similar viewpoint, let alone on a gallery wall. I’ve never experienced that before as part of my life – in books or magazines, let alone as art in a gallery. Powerful stuff.
The exhibition felt like, in some way, that this was the start of carving the path for better representation in arts for Dwarfism. It is a privilege to be in a position to do that, and also part of the collective responsibility to bring people along with you as barriers, or attempts to break barriers, take place.
The realisation that we can create art – we just need the space, the resources and the support to do so. Mostly, though, hanging the photos felt empowering.
Pinterest Perfect Photographs
For too long, I feel, the viewpoint or the Dwarf Gaze is interpreted as a negative by non-disabled people. To the average-height, non-disabled person, our perspectives may solicit pity. However, I wanted the work to show that to me, and the participants, this IS our perfect view.
The intention of using postage string and wooden pegs was deliberate. To provide a quirky, familiar feel to make the photographs accessible, despite the serious nature of the content they portrayed, to the visitor.
There was also the intention to borrow visual cues from the mainstream to validate our views as what is normal to us. That our experiences can also be dressed up cultural norms and decoration that you would find on Pinterest. That our viewpoints deserve recognition, deserve the space to be shown and to be displayed respectfully without the freakish connotation you so often find in representing dwarf bodies and experiences.
Impact of Participant Photos on Visitors
As an artist, you look for themes to connect what appears to be disparate thoughts and ideas together.
Foremost, I wanted to do the participants contributions to the exhibition, justice. The order that the photos were finally displayed reflected what it is like going about an ordinary day as a Dwarf person.
This also enabled me to talk through the respective stories behind each of the photographs to the visitors.
Being given permission to share each of these stories has also been a privilege. To show that my viewpoint is not unique. That the challenges faced are shared by a significant group of people. The participants’ photos also showed the range of difficulties we face with varying heights of Dwarfism.
The reactions of Average-Height(AH)/non-disabled people’s faces when they realise the difficulties that people like ourselves experience was hard-hitting. The term I kept hearing was ‘thought-provoking’.
Metaphorically-speaking, you could literally see the penny drop.
“Oh…” were the main first reactions and audible gasps.
There was talk of identity in terms of the difficulties our disability poses – from finding clothing to how exhausting it must be to have to prove ourselves as adults. The frustration of having to move around the environment where the needs of the majority of other groups take precedent. The overall lack of awareness and, crucially, support.
The visual representation of these difficulties makes it real. Most visitors have said they just didn’t realise – “they didn’t think”. Something we often hear in the community as we go about our day-to-day educating of society.
Thankfully, because of the wonderful participants, there are now a fair few more people who now recognise the challenges faced.
A huge, heartfelt thank you needs to go out to the participants who contributed to the project. Thank you for your time, for your stories and for the impact you have helped create in this exhibition.
- Amanda Auchter
- Claire Bailey
- Carol Carr
- Sammy Davis
- Donna Francis
- Pat Newman
- Erin Pritchard
- Kim Taylor
- Pippa Wauthier
- Trisha Wynn
The ‘You’re Just Little’ is a photographic exhibition that seeks to reveal the challenges, obstacles and societal assumptions that people with Dwarfism face on a daily basis.