Designing Inclusive Images and Words

Focus Area Four
Profile of photographer Steve Kean

Steve Kean — Artist Statement

I am a disabled photographer and I am a photographer with a disability. What’s the difference? Why not use just one descriptor? Well, to me, they are not interchangeable.

I identify as a disabled photographer because I am living in a world that is not designed to accommodate me and my wheelchair. And sometimes this hampers my ability to make the art that I want to create. I am also a photographer with a disability, a somewhat easier sell to other people who are more comfortable because I am acknowledging myself as a person first. There is something to be said for the fact that spina bifida does not completely define me. That it is only a part of who and what I am. I am also a husband, a lover, a brother, a son, a Canadian, an artist and much more. We could all write a book about the labels that apply to each of us.

What motivates me is beauty. Simple. It’s everywhere, in everything and everyone I see. Sometimes that makes it hard to focus, to decide where to point my camera or choose what stories to tell.

There are two sides to my practice, commercial photography and fine art photography, separate for the most part but not mutually exclusive and my approach for each is different. In my commercial work, which includes food photography and corporate portraiture, there isn’t time to wait for inspiration to strike. The definition of a commercial photographer is one who can solve a client’s visual presentation problems consistently, on time and to budget. You aren’t professional because you get paid, you get paid because you are professional and clients can count on you to get the job done time and again. My fine art work comes from a whole other place. It is informed by my life, the people I have met and the things I have seen as I live and breathe on this planet. It comes from experiencing life and paying deep attention to what I feel and see and finding a way to put that all together to tell a story or simply to evoke an emotion.

Headshot of Steve Kean

Image: Steve Kean

Steve Kean

Steve Kean is a photographer originally from Sudbury who has been living in Toronto for the past 23 years. He came to photography while in high school where he was failing art class. Kean’s disability made it difficult for him to draw or paint, but he still had a burning need to create art. A camera was the answer for him. Mostly self-taught, Steve has made tens-of-thousands of images over more than thirty years attempting to master his craft.

Much of Kean’s work focuses on how people with disabilities inhabit their bodies and illustrate how their experiences may differ from everyone else. His images challenge the viewer to think about how people with disabilities see and interact with the world they share with able-bodied people. Influenced by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Weston, Vincenzo Pietropaolo and W. Eugene Smith, Steve seeks to capture the moment(s) that can define his subjects and their place in society.

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