Photographer Leia Ankers took on representing sensory impairment with a view to breaking down barriers to understanding disability. It’s a personal and powerful project. We chatted to her about the importance of building trust and opening your mind
AC: The Same As You aims to represent the perception of disability with the aim to change the notion of people with dual sensory impairment and additional disabilities. Why did you want to take this on as a subject matter?
Leia Ankers: Well, I have a disability myself. I have Cerebral Palsy and since a young age, I created this stigmatisation upon myself through being disabled. Now being in my early 20s, I wanted to change this, not only for myself, but for other people also with disabilities, in a hope to raise awareness.
AC: How did you approach Michelle and Cordelia who feature in your images, and how did you build trust to engage them in The Same As You?
Leia Ankers: I met both Michelle and Cordelia through a friend of my Mum’s, named Birgit. Birgit is Michelle and Cordelia’s carer. I think what helped is that I shared my story of living with a disability with Birgit and this friendship was created between us both through the openness of our conversation. Through my closeness with Birgit, it enabled Michelle and Cordelia to trust me and allowed me to build the relationship I did with them. This was important to gain, as Michelle, in particular, has never been photographed before by a photographer, due to that trust having not been built previously.
AC: How difficult was it to show sensory environments through photography?
Leia Ankers: I would say it was hard, but I think this was just because it was new. I haven’t previously photographed this subject matter, so it was all learning for me. I first wanted to get to know Michelle and Cordelia through spending time with them and talking to Birgit, who knows them both personally. This is when I found out both of their favourite sensory experiences.
Cordelia’s is being the hydrotherapy pool and floating freely without the support of her carers or wheelchair, feeling the water rush through her hair and fingers. Michelle is listening to her records. Michelle loved to set up her record player and sit on her bed. We listened to church bells when her portrait was taken.
It was about capturing both of their senses and how their other senses have been heightened since sight for Michelle and hearing for Cordelia has been lost. It was important to photograph their hands and them both touching and feeling the environment around them, photographing the record player and how it created this vibration experience for Michelle, influencing her heart rate, breathing and emotions. It helps both of them understand and perceive the world around them.
Photographing them in their environments was important as everything is placed precisely as this is their maps to every day, without order and routine, it would be difficult.
AC: In terms of your practice and for you personally, what did you discover?
Leia Ankers: For my practice I discovered how to create and not recreate. Sometimes when I have a preconceived idea of how I want my photographs to look before shooting, I tend to feel unsatisfied with the results as I would compare my images to others. I put a stop to this and went in open minded to this series and I found this more successful and beneficial.
Personally, I gained confidence. I navigated the stigmas and stopped letting these feelings build up inside me and pushed them towards expressing it through my photography.
AC: What’s the feedback or response been to The Same As You?
Leia Ankers: I’ve actually been very surprised at the amount of feedback I have received and I’m so grateful for all of the support. I’ve found many have related both emotionally and personally to the series and found the story behind the work moving.
The series has really helped pave the way for my photography practice. Sharing the series on Instagram has been a big part of helping raise awareness for sensory impairment and gained exposure for the series. I find Instagram helps a lot nowadays for photographers to build their portfolios and gain an audience as it’s quick and accessible for many. I find myself lately checking Instagram accounts of photographers first before websites.
AC: What’s the most satisfying aspect of documentary photography, the research, taking the pictures, the final exhibition, or something else?
Leia Ankers: I think for me the most satisfying aspect is when I overcome a challenge in a series that I never thought would be possible.
Where can we find out more and keep up-to-date with your work?
AC: Thank you Leia!