Celebrating the lives of people with autism and learning disabilities through photography

PHOTO BY POLLY BRADEN, FROM "GREAT INTERACTIONS: LIFE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES AND AUTISM".

PHOTO BY POLLY BRADEN, FROM "GREAT INTERACTIONS: LIFE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES AND AUTISM".

Polly Braden has a plethora of accolades, rewards, renowned praise, and a myriad of international exhibits held displaying her documentary photography. She has displays showcasing her work from the Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago, 2006; to The Museum of London, 2011; winner of Jerwood Photography Prize, 2003; and The Guardian Young Photographer of the Year, 2002. Her work has been known to capture the intrigue of everyday life, exposing seemingly simple concepts and poses as the intricate cultural and societal implications they form into a whole. Recently she has collaborated with journalists to create photo-essays from the U.K., the Middle East, Morocco, Kenya, and China. Braden works self-initiated projects as well as commissions for international publications. Her book China Between, published in 2010, is a selection of her work from China and is included in the book Street Photography Now. Her most recent publication, “Great Interactions, Life with Learning Disabilities and Autism,” showcases the life and experiences individuals in the U.K. with autism or a learning disabilities. The charity MacIntyre, an organization that has provided support for people with disabilities for 50 years, approached Braden.

PHOTO BY POLLY BRADEN, FROM "GREAT INTERACTIONS: LIFE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES AND AUTISM".

PHOTO BY POLLY BRADEN, FROM "GREAT INTERACTIONS: LIFE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES AND AUTISM".


But before her accomplishments in the photography world came to fruition, Braden was studying anthropology and politics at East London University. At the end of her time there, in 1997, she took up a posting to teach English at a Teachers College in China for the British Council. There her fervency for the art was born. "I set up a black and white dark room in my kitchen and went out on my bike every afternoon to take pictures," she said. "I ruined a lot of film learning how to process it but loved those hours of printing by hand."

PHOTO BY POLLY BRADEN, FROM "GREAT INTERACTIONS: LIFE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES AND AUTISM".

PHOTO BY POLLY BRADEN, FROM "GREAT INTERACTIONS: LIFE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES AND AUTISM".


Braden emphasizes the relevance of the interaction of the subjects for “Great Interactions.” “ For example I used a black background for some of the photos in the book — a camera takes in all the busy, distracting details of an institutional interior, but what really matters is the interaction taking place. A black background allows the viewer to concentrate the way the people in my pictures are concentrating, so this was a useful tool.” She wanted to spotlight the vitality of support for people with learning disabilities and autism and the astonishing difference that support can make as well as to celebrate each moment of their lives.


Braden teaches at the University of Westminster and London College of Communication and taught photography at Xiamen and Kunming University in China during a residency at 943 studio. She stresses the importance of photographers searching to participate in humanitarian work and to build a resume that observes human life in its natural format like her own to take risks with collaboration and expert opinion. “Find interesting partners. Don’t be afraid to team up with experts.”

PHOTO BY POLLY BRADEN, FROM "GREAT INTERACTIONS: LIFE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES AND AUTISM".

PHOTO BY POLLY BRADEN, FROM "GREAT INTERACTIONS: LIFE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES AND AUTISM".


To read more about Branden's other publications, photo essays and list of exhibits, click here.

To view more photos from her inspiring book “Great Interactions,” click here.

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