Leonard Cheshire Disability is the UK’s leading charity supporting disabled people in the UK and around the world. The charity’s current exhibition, Developing Lives, provides a vivid insight into the lives of children and adults living with disabilities in Kenya, Tanzania and Sierra Leone, through the eyes of internationally renowned photographer Jenny Matthews and up-and-coming photographer Hamish Roberts, who is profoundly deaf.
We caught up with Hamish to find out more about his work in East Africa and how he’s helping to break down barriers with his photography.
What inspired you to get into photography?
As a deaf person I found photography to be the perfect medium to express myself. I was never very good at the spoken or written word and found that by taking photographs I was able to capture human emotion in a way that I couldn’t otherwise express.
How has your hearing impairment influenced your work?
My hearing impairment has drawn me into a world where people are disadvantaged. Much of my work is of those who are less fortunate than I am. Living in the UK with a disability puts me at a distinct advantage to those living in Africa for example. I am determined to tell their story and, as a deaf person, I think I can probably tell it better than many others because I understand it pretty well.
You’ve spent a lot of time working in Tanzania; what has drawn you back there?
It is the people of Tanzania who draw me back there. They have a wonderful spirit. They value the simple things in life which, for me, acts as a great balance to all the noise and nonsense of London where I live. I genuinely believe that they can tell us so much about what really matters in life and this helps keep my feet on the ground.
From your experience, what are the differences in the opportunities available to people with a disability in East Africa compared with the UK?
The answer to this is that sadly in East Africa many doors are closed in the face of disabled people whereas in the UK more and more are being opened. I see the work that Leonard Cheshire does is all about opening those doors.
How did you get involved with Leonard Cheshire?
I applied to Leonard Cheshire to do a piece of work photographing their activities in Kenya and Tanzania – it was a friend who works in the charitable sector who had spotted the opportunity on the Leonard Cheshire website and told me about it. I submitted a “bid” and to my delight I was chosen.
Pictured above: Hamish Roberts talking at the Developing Lives opening night
What do you hope the outcome of the Developing Lives exhibition will be?
I hope that the exhibition raises awareness of the plight of these people and encourages more people to support the work of Leonard Cheshire. From a more selfish perspective, I hope it gives me more opportunities to do more work like this as I am passionate about it and have a burning to desire to help these people improve their chances in life.
Find out more about the photographers and listen to them talk more about their experiences with Leonard Cheshire’s educational and employment projects in Africa.
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Developing Lives, gallery@oxo, Oxo Tower Wharf, 20-24 January, 11am-6pm, admission free.