You can tell from this portrait of Anthony Tusler as a young man in his wheelchair that he has always been bad-ass and cool. Wearing leg braces with cut-off levis, a wife beater that reveals a tattoo, leather cowboy boots and slicked back hair, he holds a beer in his right hand, leans forward into the frame and dares us to respond and judge. Fast forward a few decades and Anthony is still challenging us with new work and an ongoing mission to change the common currency of disability imagery. In his recent portraits of lives lived with disability he is documenting the movement (and the breadth of disability culture) in tender and subtle ways, that are a far cry from the drama of the march and the sit-in. His talk at the SFPL titled “Disability photographs: Civil Rights, Identity and Representation” shares some choice details of his life and work, and the development of his disability identity.
The captioned video is approximately 50 minutes long, and is available on youtube . Video produced by the San Francisco Public Library.
His iconic image “We Shall Overcome” of wheelchair user Steve Dias at the 504 occupation in San Francisco in 1977, has been used many times to illustrate facets of disability activism and history. Shooting from the viewpoint of wheelchair height for instance, makes a huge impact on the viewer’s understanding of the events taking place. Anthony also discusses the work of Tom Olin, significant figures like Stella Young, Aimee Mullins, Alice Shephard and Gaelen Lee.
His contemporary images of more intimate moments are continuing to explore the insider’s perspective and ways that photography can anchor the public narrative away from predictable images of pity and tragedy. The talk provides many insights into the work of a photographer who knows his craft and has long considered the power of photography to tell stories and advance a cause.