Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Art of the Gaze

"What it also seems to reveal is that he is a man willing, for a moment at least, to be the object of your gaze, to let you look at what he's missing -- as long as you are willing to let him do the same to you."
A quote from Yahoo's People of the Web feature about Kevin Connolly, a photographer who has turned pictures of people staring at him (he has no legs) into a photo exhibit.

Beauty. Total beauty. I love the fact that he acknowledges that the starers too are not just rude or insensitive, but vulnerable in a really obvious way. I sometimes stare -- I don't mean to. As I become more and more involved in this community, I notice people all the time. In fact, when the mysterious foot bumps appeared in Ireland, a country where EVERYONE is expected to walk, and briskly so, I made it a point to really notice others with disabilities while in Galway. It helped me keep the self-pity at bay and make me realize that I was part of a well-concealed army of tourists and locals limping, wheeling, and dragging themselves on crutches all over Shop Street. I was having a conversation with a girl in my program about a story I workshopped. It was dealing with a girl named Alex and her seizure disorders and disabilities. The other girl was saying how she just doesn't really know anyone with disabilities. As she said that and pushed through the crowds, a family passed us and the younger boy had Down Syndrome. I didn't have time to see if that registered with her. It wouldn't have with me until I made my decision to notice people.

I am pronouncing publicly that I am trying to notice, to not look away, to not pretend that people with disabilities are invisible.

And sometimes, in that process, I will stare.

Kevin Connolly's artwork forces the starers into an engagement, to ask them "what are you looking at" and to have to answer. Interaction is the antidote to aimless gazing, and his artwork forces an interaction in a way that's just breathtaking.

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