THERE are around 1.5 million people in the UK with a learning disability and 700,000 with autism. Photographer Polly Braden has spent two years working with just a few, and the result is a vibrant, uplifting exhibition opening at the National Media Museum this weekend.
Polly’s photographs capture the everyday moments and milestones that organisations like MacIntyre - a charity providing 1,500 children and adults with learning, support and care - help to make possible.
The aim of the exhibition, called Great Interactions: life with learning disabilities and autism, is simple - to highlight the everyday interactions that enable life-changing experiences.
The colourful images include a youngster making his way up a climbing wall, a pair of trainee baristas in a coffee shop and a couple walking out of church on their wedding day.
"In our daily lives, we can take for granted the countless interactions that enrich our life experience," says Polly. "From the friendly chat at the supermarket checkout to that encouraging smile or cup of tea from a work colleague when you’re having a bad day, these small interactions make a big impact on our wellbeing. For the 1.5 million people in the UK with learning disability and 700,000 with autism, these interactions are even more fundamental to their quality of life."
The exhibition is accompanied by a book of images by Polly Braden, produced in partnership with MacIntyre, celebrating the charity's 50th anniversary this year.
In her images, Polly explores the inner lives of people with disabilities, with a sense of fun and poignancy. Each subject is presented as an individual, with their own experiences and take on life.
She says this exhibition is aimed at challenging "outdated, institutionalised images".
John Berriman, chairman of the MacIntyre charity, hopes the exhibition will reach the learning disability community, family and carers and "help create a sense of pride and inspiration".
"Great Interactions is about recognising the lives of people we support but also a reminder that we all have a role in creating an inclusive society in which everyone has the same opportunities to live the life they choose," he says.
"It is hoped these photos and the stories of the people captured will engage decision-makers and the public so that people with a learning disability can
have the same opportunities as anyone else in life.
"I believe this project has the power to really make a difference and challenge the way society views learning disability, so that we focus on the possibilities not the limitations.”
Renowned for her photographs of intimate communication and gestures between people, Polly Braden explores the relationship between everyday life, work, leisure and economics. Her work has appeared in several publications, she is a previous winner of the Jerwood Photography Prize and The Guardian Young Photographer of the Year award and has exhibited internationally.
* Great Interactions: Life With Learning Disabilities and Autism runs at the National Media Museum from February 27 to April 10. For more information call 0844 856 3797 or visit nationalmediamuseum.org.uk