By Sebastian Rich, Photographer
As a photographer, I have the dubious talent of immortalising someone’s quintessential moment of dread, horror or loss. I do feel at times that I have sold my soul so many times for the sake of ‘that image’ that nobody is buying anymore. But life changes and has occasion to smile.
Over 25 years ago in the horrifying civil war that bled the life from former Yugoslavia, I photographed a terrified young man who had been abandoned in a Bosnian asylum as staff fled when the building came under intense Serbian shelling. The combination of teeth-juddering exploding shells and high-pitched screams was one of the more upsetting situations that I have been in.
Apart from that dreadful week 25 years ago, I had no experience of photographing people with learning difficulties. Being asked to photograph the residents of L’Arche initially struck me as a sombre prospect.
The perception of intellectually disabled people is so often governed by the idea that they are unfortunate, different, and separate. During my time with the residents and staff at the Val Fleuri, the prejudices and stereotypes I didn’t realise I had crumbled as I saw that fundamentally, we all share the same way of being.
To discover so many wonderful smiles and alert minds in the seemingly dreadful face of disability was as shameful as it was beautiful. It became obvious to me that what I was looking for was the moment where I could try to help myself and others see them as people, not necessarily as people with a disability.
My grandmother always said, “never ever judge a book by its cover.” I realised that was all I had to do – open the book and there they were, people, the same as you and me.
It’s very important that we see beyond the disabilities that form one aspect of people’s identity, because however shrouded they are, they are on the same path in life as you and I, just with a different gait.
That’s why it was so uplifting to see Randall’s approach to directing the film. His directorial touch was very subtle and extremely gentle. He wasn’t directing in the classical, “camera, lights, action” sense. Rather, he just allowed our stars to be themselves.
Sebastian Rich has been a photographer in hard news, documentary and current affairs all his working life. He was once described by Channel 4’s Jon Snow as “possibly the finest news cameraman and photographer of his generation.” See more of his work at http://sebastianrichphotography.com/