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Images of Disability from the Royal College of Physicians / 4 August 2011

sepia illustration of a bewigged gentleman of short stature

Matthew Buchinger, 1724 © Royal College of Physicians.

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Whilst on the way to see the new Shape exhibition, 'Re-framing disability: portraits from the Royal College of Physicians', I was watching the classic 1967 film ‘Guess who's coming to dinner’ on the train. I was struck by how much I knew about the film having only seen it once a few years ago.

I went to the Re-Framing Disability exhibition and realised I knew nearly all the people that worked on it. But I wondered why not just have new images of disability, and people’s views on it now? Surely the older images, the drawings of people with disabilities from 100 years ago aren't relevant in society any more?

Then, on the way back on the tube, I was thinking about Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, when I suddenly had an A-ha! Moment. I thought about the link between that film, and the need to bring images of disability from 100 years ago out of the archive: attitudes, changing attitudes, hopefully.

With the press reports from the current government being so negative with regard to disabled people on benefits, it was interesting to read that people, even 100 years ago, made quite a comfortable living out of exhibiting themselves, on their own terms, and were able to do this independently.

Maybe in another 100 years there'll be some discussions about the new images taken by photographer Lynn Weddle, along with some newer images of people with disabilities, and people will share their views on them. That’s a conversation I’d like to be a part of, and maybe an organisation like Shape will still be around to display them for all to see.

For a view on an actual conversation that took place for the exhibition, take a look at Sophie Partridge’s blog at

Re-framing disability: portraits from the Royal College of Physicians is on show at Shape Arts, Deane House Studios, 27 Greenwood Place, London until 29 September. Open by appointment: Monday to Thursday, 9- 5pm