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Courtesy of 

Debbie Todd

Ann Lesley BarTur Award

Debbie Todd

The Northern School of Art
United Kingdom

Judges Choice

Debbie Todd is a portrait photographer based in the north-east. She has recently graduated with a First Class Honours degree in photographic practice at the northern school of art. She won the Anjool Malde Award and went on to be shortlisted for the AOP Student Awards 2022. Debbie is continuing her studies with a masters and continuing to develop her practice.

Her current project looks at the language we use in everyday sayings and how it connects with and affects those with differences. Many of the subjects in this series are misjudged, stereotyped and underrepresented within society and the media.

The images are taken and retouched in a fine art painterly style and sit alongside a saying that portrays some feelings of the sitter. Some of these are literal, and some are more tongue in cheek, but the idea is to consider how the saying represents the person and what challenges it may produce.

The main aim of this project is to encourage diversity and enable people to consider the images and the message they convey. It should open conversations and reduce exclusion.

It is not pointing out that these sayings should not be used but more that we should try and understand the language around people with differences and be more inclusive within society.

The ultimate goal is to show that we are all individual human beings, with our own unique traits, who have a right to be well represented in society as well as the media and photographic industry.

The meaning of being different

Various, UK


DIFFERENCE: the thing that we all share.

The things that separate people from each other have always fascinated me. I have always wondered about the reasons why people are treated differently because of their differences. These traits are unique and beautiful and something to be celebrated.

We tend to call differences things like ‘impairments’ and ‘disabilities’, which can sound negative and mask over the individual, rather than treating that person as a human being.

Imagine looking at a magazine and not seeing one person that represents anything close to how you see yourself.

I specialise in working with people who are often seen as different, physically, medically and neurologically, compared to most of society. I do this because I want to promote equality and diversity around differences within fashion and commercial photography.

This project examines the differences between people in the UK. It looks at how people are viewed and why preconceptions are made, using proverbs and idioms that have been used regularly without much thought. Most of these sayings have been passed down through generations and are said to others without a second thought about the connotations. These sayings are very personal to each individual and represent their difference in a visual way. The image has been created to allow people to engage with the subject and consider the use of language and how it affects others, especially those affected by the sayings. Some of the sayings are representative of the person and others may be seen as more flippant or ironic.

All of the images have their own sayings, alongside the name of the sitter and their difference.

I like to take portraits that tell a story about the sitter; it is irrelevant whether in the documentary, fashion or fine art style. I use locations or props that connect to the subject on a personal level. The subjects start off as strangers that I usually see online, then connect with, before considering the their feelings and ethics and then collaborating on the work.

The images have been retouched to represent fine art paintings and displayed in repurposed frames, some of which are over 100 years old. The aesthetic of this exhibit is to look as though they are displayed in an 18th century Manor House or castle.

I’ve always loved taking photos, but photography wasn’t an affordable hobby for me. Most Sundays, I would go to my Nanna’s house and look through her old photos, listening to her stories. I was occasionally allowed to use my Nanna’s small plastic camera. She used to let me use the free film that came back when processing her films through the post.

It wasn’t until I was almost 30 that I started taking it more seriously and I started studying for my degree when I was 38. I think studying these photographs as a child has inspired me to want to photograph people. I love creating a great image but mostly, I enjoy engaging with the sitter, hearing their stories, and learning about their lives. I then try to create an image that incorporates some of that personality and story to pass on ti the viewer.

Portraiture is definitely my favourite aspect of photography, and in the future, I would love to be involved in creating imagery of people in a editorial/ fashion and documentary style. I hope that the future is full of images of people with differences and I believe that creating projects like this are helping to make that change.

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