Recently I was challenged by someone claiming “You’re Mik Scarlet!”. They held their mobile phone up and showed me a photograph of little old me that was taken as part of the Re-Framing Disability exhibition. Now it’s not my favourite photo, but before I had the chance to say anything my challenger laughed “It doesn’t look like you do in real life”, and at that they walked off. Apart from being a reminder of what it is like to be known by the public, it also made me want to explain the project and my photograph in it (that’s it below).
The project involved a large group of disabled people examining historic images of disability held in the archive of the Royal College of Physicians, giving our thoughts on them and how they portrayed disabled people and then to have our photograph taken to be added to the archive. From the beginning it became clear that disabled people have always been around and have been of interest to the medical profession, even if they had no real idea of what caused the impairments of the people featured. What was amazing to learn was how much these disabled people of the past had found ways of creating successful careers. Many of them seemed to follow the same path as someone like myself and went into showbiz. Some even performed for royalty and became stars. The strangest thing was looking at the images before we were given any information and as we gave our thoughts it became clear that much of what we said was coloured by our own experience rather than historic knowledge. When we were told who these people were and what they had achieved, I think most of us were stunned to learn that disabled people had many more opportunities way back when than they do now.
When it came time for my photograph to be taken, I chatted with the photographer and got ready. The plan was to create an image that was equally hard to read, and that without any information might cause anyone looking at the picture in the future would read it as wrongly as we had with the images from the past. Now I have always secretly dreamed of being a world dictator, and so decided to play this role in my photo. I think we succeeded. If you compare it to the promotional poster for the forth coming film The Dictator the thinking behind my image becomes clear.
So I hope that in a couple of hundred years, if another project is run to examine the RCP archive then everyone involved will look at my picture and possibly wonder if there had ever been a disabled dictator with peroxide hair? Who knows, maybe one day there will…
(This says more about what goes on in my head than anything else I feel, but hey I am the Great Leader so what I says goes!)