When I Googled ‘disabled life models’ and ‘life models with disability, I was directed either to sites which promoted professional fashion models who have a disability (usually an amputation, or perhaps a spinal injury and so reliant on a wheelchair for mobility) or to sites which explained the difference between a ‘medical model’ or ‘social model’ of understanding disability.
It took a few stabs at Google to find Kevin (I’m a professional life model with cerebral palsy) French. After still more stabbing at Google, I found more about Kevin at the following two sites, disabledkevin.com (a site promoting Kevin French’s services as a professional life model) and disabledkevin.tumblr.com , a site which shows several life drawings of Kevin by different artists.
Some of these images are rough and raw; others are predictable in their use of signifying motifs (such as a wheelchair), while still others are unexpectedly evocative with their spare and jagged lines. However, I was disturbed by Kevin’s statement,
I find people/ artists don’t interact with me because they are afraid, challenged or shocked by my disability
followed by his defensive assurance,
but I’m easy to work with.
It took me awhile to understand my discomfort about Kevin’s statement. I initially thought my discomfort was provoked by the substance of his words. Then I realised that this could not be right given my familiarity with disability discourse arising from my 30 plus years of working in social policy including disability policy. It wasn’t until I read Elizabeth Hollander’s essay ‘Subject Matter: Models for Different Media’ (1991), that I realised that my discomfort arose from the act of Kevin’s words, ie by Kevin’s assertion of his professional identity as a professional life model. In other words, it was not Kevin’s proclamation of his disability that I found discomforting but rather his proclamation of his professional role ‘to produce the spectacle of [himself]’ (Hollander. 1991. p.133).
The disablement of Kevin as a professional life model traverses boundaries; first and inevitably, with Kevin himself because of his cerebral palsy, and second and just as significantly – perhaps more so -, in the people who fear him. But third, and most unexpectedly, his public ‘outing’ of himself as a professional life model is in itself transgressive. As Hollander observes on page 133 of her article,
the model’s perspective on making pictures has not had a place in the standard discourse on art,
deferring instead to the standpoint of the artist. The model is expected to be anonymous, without voice, without identity.
There’s a question here that I want to explore, but I’m not sure what it is yet …
Kevin French. ‘I’m a disabled life model!’ www.disabledkevin.tumblr.com Accessed 14 March 2016
Elizabeth Hollander (1991). ‘Subject Matter: Models for Different Media’ in Representations No.36 (Autumn 1991), pp 133-146. University of California Press.