Born with Charcot-Marie Tooth Disease, Jeff is an accomplished lawyer. He also has degrees in mathematics and engineering, and is the proud father of three.
Along with his two brothers and both of his parents, Justin was born with albinism. He works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is building his career as a model.
When New York City-based artist Sophie Klafter was an adolescent, she was the only person at school with a disability; aside from her father, she spent time with no one else who understood what it was like to perceive and navigate the world differently. corpoReality, for which the artist documents others living with disability, began with a single self-portrait.
This self-portrait, says Klafter, was the final in a significant series of self-portraits that she embarked on as a way of grappling with and ultimately coming to accept the unique physicality of her body. She and her father both have Charcot Marie Tooth disease, a neurological disorder that affects muscle strength, especially in the feet and legs. Since childhood, she has had to keep one eye open for possible obstacles; even a slight irregularity in the terrain can lead to a dangerous slip. Throughout her life, she has made herself a subject of her work, discovering the nuances of her body through painting, sculpture, and photography. In 2012, the corpoReality portrait became the denouement of her years of self-portraiture, an image that recognized the extent of her pain even as it accepted and redeemed that pain.
Klafter connected with her subjects—collaborators, really—through various flyers and advertisements, posted both online and in local hangouts. She reached out to rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, athletic programs, and support groups. She encountered one at a bar, and others contacted her as the project gained momentum. One wrote her on the dating site OKCupid hoping to participate.
Klafter admits that it took a bit of time to hone her approach; initially, she couldn’t help but be swayed by popular representations of disability, and her earliest shots seemed to focus more on the fact of the corporeal difference than they did on the person who lingered within. Determined to make images that were authentic both to her artistic vision and to the daily realities of life for her sitters, Klafter became intimately acquainted with each. She spoke to family, listened as they recounted memories, and discovered the things that they loved, those that hurt, and those that drove them forward. She, in turn, gave them the same privilege and allowed them into her own inner world. The portraits are so varied, she says, because the subjects themselves are. No two people could be captured in the same way.
For the photographer, the passion of her sitters is as important as her own; their consent and complicity is essential. She continues to remain friends with many long after the shutter stops clicking, and when asked what she hopes her subjects see in these images, she responds with one word only: “Pride.”
Geri is a disability awareness advocate and speaker born with diastrophic dysplasia.
Majoring in Social Work in her junior year of college, Heather was born with Choreoathetoid Cerebral Palsy; which has rendered her unable to speak. Among her many interests are writing, floral arranging, swimming and horseback riding. With the help of a speech-generating device, Heather is fully able to communicate.
I-ge suffered an L3 spinal cord injury. He believes “everything happens, that has and will.”
Born with Charcot-Marie Tooth disease, Sophie currently lives in New York City and works as a photographer.
As a table tennis gold medalist Paralympian in 1996 and 1998, Jennifer also placed as a silver medalist in 1972 in the sport of basketball. Born in Jamaica, she acquired polio at the age of five. Jennifer is married to a Paralympian in field events.
Born profoundly deaf, this passionate student loves soccer, basketball, computer games, cooking and reading. When he grows up, he wants to be a chef. Josh can now hear since his cochlear implant surgery.
After losing her leg to cancer, Kahreemah started rock climbing as a hobby. She now teaches adaptive climbing lessons in Brooklyn, NY.
Kathy has a long family history of androgenetic alopecia (female pattern hair loss).
Born with spina bifida, Lena is now eight years old. She calls herself a “fashionista” because she loves to design things. She acts and sings in community theatre.
Blind since her 20s, Rhonda is a Psychoanalyst practicing in Manhattan who also carries a Masters degree in music as a concert pianist.
Born in Venezuela, Samantha is a college student with lymphedema. She sings opera and plays the violin with exuberance and confidence.
Sarah is a painter, sculptor and harpist. Born without legs and only one arm, she loves her body and believes she was put on this earth for a reason. She says she will miss her body in her next life.
“The most difficult thing about being disabled is that people around you become blind and deaf.”
After news of inheriting the BRCA II gene, Sarah opted for a prophylactic double mastectomy. Her new breasts were reconstructed by transferring skin and fat from other parts of her body. She is a fearless skydiver and mother of three.
Steve is a comedian who was born with muscular dystrophy. He is working on a comic web series and spreading disabilities awareness with his new show called “Uplifting Dystrophy.”
Dad and me
All images © Sophie Klafter