Having been diagnosed with dyslexia, photographer Miranda Harr tells Sarah Freeman how she embarked on a mission to put the condition in the picture.
By any standard, Miranda Harr’s diagnosis came late. She was 39 when she got medical confirmation that she was dyslexic and finally had a label for a condition that had cast its shadow over her school days growing up in Hull. “While it wasn’t a surprise, it was a relief,” says the photographic artist, whose latest collection has been inspired by her diagnosis. “The official assessment is quite expensive, which is why it took me so long to get it.
“A lot of people with undiagnosed dyslexia have a really tough time at school and I was no different. The worse thing is that people think you are slow or lazy. That’s a terrible thing to be told at such a young age and it stays with you.”
Armed with her diagnosis, Miranda realised that while many of those with dyslexia have much in common, their experience of it can be very different. Keen to raise awareness of the condition, she put a call out on social media and the seeds of The Dyslexia Portrait were sown.
“The premise was simple. I wanted to talk to people with dyslexia. I wanted to find out how it had affected them and their lives and then I wanted to use what they had said to produce an image which represented their world view to sit alongside their portrait.
“It’s been fascinating. There is a tendency to put everyone with dyslexia in to the same box, but actually how it manifests itself is unique to each individual.”
The Dyslexia Portrait exhibition opens as part of Artlink’s Square Peg disability arts programme next month and among the portraits there are some famous faces, including former England football manager Sam Allardyce, who said: “I came from a time when no one knew what dyslexia was. I really struggled at school and the best days of my life came when I left.
“Things have hopefully changed for the better, but if nothing else I hope my story shows dyslexia doesn’t have to stop you following your dreams. ”
Dyslexia affects around one in 10 adults in the UK and Miranda was keen to get people from all walks of life involved in the project.
“For soprano Anna Devin, dyslexia is a barrier, a haze or cloud that prevents her from taking the information into her brain,” she says. “Although she struggled with reading at school and college, she has become a very successful opera singer. Anna believes that her dyslexia makes her creative, and gives her an intuitive understanding of stage direction and music.”
When each interview was in the bag, Miranda would return to her desk and begin work on the photographic element of the piece.
“Some people were really clear about how they saw their dyslexia, others less so but what was lovely is that they all talked openly about how it had influenced their lives. It is hugely personal but everyone seems pleased with the end result.”
Square Peg has been funded by Hull UK City of Culture and for Miranda that makes the exhibition extra special. “I’m from Hull and I think this year has been incredible for the city. Every day you can go see something different. Art is hugely important and as I’ve learnt from doing the Dyslexia Project it can start to shine a spotlight on untold stories.”
The Dyslexia Portrait exhibition runs from October 2 to November 11 at Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull. For more information, visit hull2017.co.uk