Photographer with cerebral palsy aiming to change perceptions of Jamaica with Richmond exhibition

A photographer with cerebral palsy is aiming to change perceptions of Jamaica with his upcoming exhibition in Richmond.

Dexter McLean will bring his award-winning Tower Avenue project to Orleans House Gallery, with it featuring Black and white portraits of an intergenerational community in Jamaica.

This is the first time the images, created in 2019 and reflecting McLean’s early youth in the Caribbean, will be displayed as one-collection.

He said: “This is my way of giving something back to Jamaica.

“When people typically think about Jamaica, they think about crime, but there’s so much more to the country than that.”    

The collection aims to authentically capture the community of Olympic Gardens, Kingston, with McLean inspired by Dana Lixenberg’s Imperial Courts project which encapsulated life at a social housing complex in Los Angeles over a 22-year period. 

‘Jay Jay’ copyright © Photo credit: Dexter McLean

McLean and his family moved to the UK when he was nine-years-old.

His introduction to photography came when he was 13, after his mum gifted him a small digital camera.

He said: “I haven’t put it down since and I’m even more passionate about photography than I was back then.”

The 2021 Hood Medal winner’s method hangs between portraiture and documentary by capturing individual personalities within society.

His work challenges historical representations of Black and disabled communities, drawing on his own experience of living with cerebral palsy.

McLean, who completed undergraduate and master’s degrees in photography at Middlesex University, explained: “When you’re disabled they put you in a box, and it’s difficult to get out of that position.

“But I had a very good family around me which enabled me to do anything I wanted and didn’t hold me back.”

He also wants to inspire young disabled people to follow their dreams and is hoping to give a programme of public talks to school groups as part of the exhibition. 

McLean said: “I want to show young people that I’m disabled but there’s no limit to what you can do.

“I found out in my dissertation that only two Black disabled people have made it as photographers and I want to be the third one.

“That’s possible now but in the eighties or nineties it would have been near impossible.”

‘Kimmisha’ copyright © Photo credit: Dexter McLean

McLean’s dream project would be to create a photography collection representing the disabled community in Jamaica, producing a book or documentary from this.

He said: “Disabled people in Jamaica are underrepresented and I want to change that.

“Growing up there as a disabled person was really tough and some people would give me dirty looks. 

“Paralympic athletes are viewed as equal to Olympic athletes in Jamaica but apart from that there is no equality.”

The Tower Avenue collection will be exhibited at Orleans House Gallery from 17 March – 12 June 2022 and entry to the exhibition is free.

To find out more, visit Orleans House Gallery’s website

Featured image credit: Dexter McLean

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