There were smiling photographs all over the news this week of four young people and a Fire Crew. The two young women wore short skirts showing their amputations, each with her stump dangling alongside her remaning leg as she balanced on her crutches. A happy smiling event but with powerful images.
Showing the amputations is the result of choices by many people from the young women themselves (and whoever they discussed their plans for the day with) through to the picture editors on the newspapers. I have no way of knowing how many of these choices were deliberate and how many were unconscious but these are image-aware young women of their generation.
These are images loaded with messages but without knowing the context, it’s hard to read the messages. Did these young women, lying and then sitting in hospital for weeks with their smartphones, gain inspiration from the powerful and often eroticised photographs of veterans created by Michael Stokes? Do they want to say they remain proud of their bodies?
Did the young people’s legal advisors encourage the decision in order to influence negotiations about compensation? Did anyone (on purpose or by accident) introduce a sense of shame or the pressure of normativity to the event and suggest hiding the stumps with trousers or by photographing the women sitting down, in a Fire Tender perhaps? And the picture editors, some chose to crop the image or run other images from that day but enough chose to run with it. Or is it just that times have changed and amputation is no longer taboo (though it retains its power to shock) and I am over-thinking this?
Pictures paint a thousand words but some of them raise a thousand questions.
However, one thing these pictures do show is that we’ve come a long way from the days when Marc Quinn broke taboos by placing his sculpture Alison Lapper pregnant on the fourth plinth. The image is so powerful and iconic that a replica featured in the 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony
Whatever the background and intended messages, the visit of Daniel Thorpe, Leah Washington, Joe Pugh and Victoria Balch to Staffordshire Fire and Rescue centre celebrated the four young people’s progress and the contribution of the Fire Crew. So let’s hear it for them and for the other emergency crews that day and the teams of healthcare workers who have worked with them since. And let’s also remember that this is not about them being brave or inspirational for us. Leah Washington says “I haven’t come to terms with what’s happened, it’s a bit too soon” so let’s wish them the best as they set out on the next stage of their roads to recovery.