Spain (A Coruña)
A photographer called Jose Martínez took the picture below. He calls it ‘End of discrimination’. Jose is one of the photographers represented by the world’s first photography agency for people with intellectual disabilities.
Photojournalist Felipe Alonso wants to boost social inclusion, visibility and empower – by teaching skills and creating the necessary conditions needed to thrive in the photography industry. He created Nos, Why Not? in 2013 as “a meeting place between photographers with disabilities and society to collaborate together in creating a real value”.
“People with intellectual disabilities are discriminated against worldwide,” he tells us. “The main problems are empowerment (What am I useful for?) and their visibility (Where are they? What do they do?)”
That’s no longer the case for Jose Martínez , or Rosa Areosa, who has an intellectual disability and has been blind from birth. Thanks to photography, she has learned to feel colours through music. Or Vicente Fernandez, who no longer suffers from shyness. People with intellectual disabilities can use photography to think about their environments and situations.
Originally working in the business and economics world, it took Felipe three years of studying studying photojournalism and lighting to realise he preferred photography, so he created a studio and started working as a freelancer for El Mundo, the second largest printed daily newspaper in Spain. It wasn’t long before he became Head of Photography in its Catalunya edition (Barcelona) and started working for Sipa Press and a publishing group.
But on his 50th birthday, nearly ten years ago, he felt the need to leave a more interesting and important legacy. “I have always been interested in the situation of people with intellectual disabilities, I believe that their situation is an injustice.”
In 2011 he moved to A Coruña, in the northwest of Spain, to start teaching photography to people with disabilities – and created Nos, Why Not? for them to get work.
For the project itself to work, he decided that everything had to be different. “I decided to create a new business model, a new organisation with new challenges.” He designed a nonprofit agency, “a place where everyone could have access and no one could be rejected, where new products and services could be created, and where among all of us, we can build a place where there is a positive energy to collaborate together, and create a true inclusion.”
The agency involves more than 100 people, including three blind people. Felipe takes advantage of the advances in photographic technology (for example, the autofocus), and has even studied the methods of blind photographers to devise a “music method” to “feel” colours.
“We are not scientists, only photographers, but this method works for Rosa. We work to find music that transmits the same sensation as colors,” he explains. “This method has changed her life. Now she chooses her clothes every day according to her mood and asks about the colours of the food and the landscapes.”
“Photography offers many benefits to people with disabilities,” explains Felipe. “They are photographers, they are protagonists. They gain quality of life, have empowerment, visibility and unity. The photography makes them have a visual education and culture, they are more proactive, they are motivated, they have projects, an interest in culture and other therapeutic benefits. Their lives improve.”
Today Nos, Why Not? teams exist in several cities in Spain from A Coruña to Madrid to a special education school in Pamplona, and they collaborate with New York’s Life-wire News Service, which distributes media content from the unique perspective of people with intellectual disabilities, Norway’s Moro Foto, Yo También workshops in Buenos Aires, Argentina and We are Lions in Chicago, a lifestyle brand featuring artists with disabilities’ artwork on everyday products. Felipe is currently setting up a team and network in the United States, working with an important North American image bank and expanding into Italy and countries in Africa (Congo and Tanzania).
Next Nos, Why Not? are starting a 360º team to create virtual tours to provide the agency with new possibilities and customers. “To make an effective inclusion, people with intellectual disabilities have to demonstrate that they can make a product or service with more value than a provider without a disability. We have to change the paradigm. Instead of begging for jobs, we have to make society want to work with us for our value. We can achieve this value with a specialisation and with the support of technology.”
His aim is to create a fully accessible photo bank of images, with news to facilitate and promote cooperation between companies or organisations and photographers – you will even be able to filter searches to find photos by people with specific disabilities.
The photographer gets the most joy from seeing how people progress in their lives. “When I first get to know them, they are shy and apathetic. After a few months, they are different people – curious, active, they want to do more things, they begin to wonder and they want to live more creatively.”
He believes that one of the few solutions to a society that can be full of selfishness and bureaucracy is culture and creativity. “Culture will allow us to accept and be different people, and creativity will allow us to find new solutions to change a system that barely works… to create that better society.”
AtlasAction: Felipe is always looking to expand his international network of photographers, with and without disabilities (especially with intellectual disability) and to grow their image bank. Get in touch here.
Want to feel colour? This is some of Rosa’s playlist:
White = ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon;
Red = ‘Highway to Hell’ by AC / DC
Blue = ‘Azzurro’ by Adriano Celentano
Yellow = ‘Tractor Amarillo’ by Zapato Veloz
Black = silence
Felipe Alonso, photojournalist
This project has been selected as part of CultureFutures, a new storytelling project that maps creative and cultural projects with a social mission – and the artists, collectives and entrepreneurs behind them.
Atlas of the Future is excited to join forces with Goldsmiths Institute of Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship and the British Council Creative Economy.