As part of her guest editorship on Disability Arts Online, Lisette Auton talked to Kev Howard – a photographer and musician based in Saltburn, North Yorkshire.
Known for his d-FORMED exhibition, his work also encompasses documentary, activism, studio, portrait, landscape and performance work. Kev is currently studying for an MA in Fine Art at Teesside University. In his self-deprecating manner, Kev says about his general day: “It’s boring. I pick up the camera. I take photos. I go to bed.”
Far from boring, a day in Kev’s company gave Lisette Auton a unique insight into his passion, his activism, his work and his practice. All photographs in this article are courtesy of Kev Howard.
“These are a snapshot of the images that tell a much bigger story. This is the ATOS protest.”
“I keep going back to this one photograph. The message on the placard around his neck – fucking perfect.”
“This was in Middlesbrough 2014, July-ish, the Free Palestine protest.”
“Bombardment of Israel. Full march and vigils held every week until bombardment stopped. In some of them the EDL showed up to protest the vigil. And they didn’t like their photos being taken…. Strong women – the vigils and the marches were organised by women right across the religious and non-religious divide.”
“Not just the power of the protest, but the power of the individuals as well.”
“It shows with this photo, disabled people have a voice. It shows at the front four extremely strong disabled women.”
“By this point I knew a few of these ladies, so being in front of me with the camera wasn’t an issue anymore. You have to build those relationships. This was the one image, for me anyway, that encapsulates the strength of feeling against the bombardments. Regardless of the way you look at the conflict, the people who are suffering are old folk, and children. By this point over 100 hundred children had been killed, so feelings were obviously running high.
“This is four weeks into the vigil and this is bringing to light that Gaza is basically a prison camp – so it turned into a sit down protest.”
“A lot of people are held in military detention and given ultra basic food at best.”
“These guys were just in McDonalds and came out, and what the fuck’s going on?”
“So, what they’re looking at are these dudes here. They really didn’t like me taking photos. I’m so close, right in their face. It was scary when the threats started coming. Keep it coming guys, you’re giving me some great shots! They’re yelling about ban the burka – while wearing full mask. I didn’t see it at the time but – dog thinks bollocks.”
EXHIBITION d-FORMED 2016
“So this was around surgical experience.”
“For me, [Mask] is the most important image. This was the last thing I saw when going into surgeries. As a kid, up to ’77 they used to give you a pre-med but they didn’t knock you out with the injections as they do now, this big black scary mask came at you. Suffocation. This smell and intense buzzing in the head. Then an intense psychedelic experience, into a pinpoint and then you black out. It terrified me as a kid. But by the age of 8 I started really enjoying it. I know that’s a coping mechanism now.”
“Essentially [Defiance and Solidarity] is highlighting the surgical procedure of splitting the fingers, then they realised when it was split, the bone was set, and then really difficult to relearn to write, to use cutlery. I used to catch it putting it in my pocket. I love the shape it makes. Defiant against the authorities and solidarity with those protesting for their human rights.”
“There was an article done about Disability & Sexuality and it’s really good, done with great sensitivity, but the imagery is really bad. Really voyeuristic. Almost hiding the people. No empowerment. And why they’ve oiled them up, I’ve no idea. And the lighting is really hard. [In ‘My Left Foot’] the lighting is really soft. Showing what’s been done on the foot. But it’s around the aesthetic. Around the EMPOWERMENT of the aesthetic. And this is my real left foot, not that fakey shit of Daniel Day Lewis. That still pisses me off 20 odd years later. That still goes on. It would never happen with any other minority group.
“This is the most used image out of the three. Used in some of the advertising. Looking at the sculptural shape of limb it’s essentially asking the question if this is okay to look at when the context of flesh has gone, why is it not okay when flesh is there? It’s about body fascism. The vast majority of people can not fit into the imagery of what’s socially excepted.”
“Referencing the continuing deaths of people who are vulnerable and disabled. Encapsulating government policy against vulnerable people and how they’ve been failed and thereby focussing on the deaths caused by these.”
“This is more what I do to turn my head off. When I do prints, this is probably what I sell most of. When the weather is doing something horrendous I grab my camera and go out. I’m a storm watcher. Land comes alive when it’s at its most aggressive. It’s not being kind to you as a photographer and I want to capture that. Or you get those serene moments.”
“It was really difficult to try and think what to put here because photographing bands was what got me into photography in the first place. This is some of my most recent work over the last two years.”
“It’s what I’m working on pretty much right now, and goes into other areas too. It kind of shows more of the experimental stuff that I do. I’m doing a Masters in Fine Art at Teesside University.”
“This is looking more at my fine art work; Paint Pouring. You can really focus in on specific areas of interest. I can direct the viewer. That’s what I like about not being able to figure out scale. What is scale? I don’t know what the paint’s going to do. I work in light. So it’s a new series of exploration for me. I love the whole flow, but the individual colours don’t mix to create new colours. They remain separate, but the density changes. It’s a continuation of the work in d-FORMED. The sculpture isn’t the product, it’s a means to get to the image. It’s an accessory to the crime, but not the crime itself!”
“Agitation; a series of images beginning with water on water.. What was interesting was the structures that came out of it.”
“Abstract Body; looking at the sculptural form of the human body. I like throwing perception out. What you think it is, to what it is. Why I’m doing this is to show that deformity is bullshit. When we take shape and form and pull it into the abstract, it gets you thinking about the whole thing. I know it’s the female form, but having zero sexuality, not sexualising the body, looking at what it is, which is that the body is beautiful. I got it in the neck about only using females. I put a shout out for male and female. Only females responded. Media representation of body affects people.”
“I love photographing people. And it pays the bills as well. And some of the portraits I do are specific commissions. So I work with writers and musicians, for books and publicity material. I don’t do family portraits. There are plenty of good commercial photographers out there. I want to capture more. Create the artistic. And capture the essence. Bring in the strength of the person in that shot. You don’t necessarily need to have a full face in a portrait to make it powerful. So I break the rules on that.”
“We have a meeting first. But, the important bit before I do any shoot, we sit in kitchen and have a cup of tea and we talk. Not anything about what we’re going to embark upon. We just talk. And by that point the person is totally at ease. Let’s get you comfortable. We just talk. I tend to say, hold that there. And then there it is.”
“As a musician in the dead time, I wasn’t taking photos then, I studied how the director brought emotion and a small amount of body gesture, how that would back up the words. How a smallest change of detail can change the entire shot. You’ve got to tease that out of someone, find a memory, support them while they’re in it and get them out quick. Then a cup of tea.”
Kev Howard’s Facebook – private, you’ll need to sign up: “literally private so I couldn’t be hounded by the fascists.”