Exhibition keeps disabled athletes in the picture

Andrea Scherney - IPC athletics Berlin 1994. Jan Michael

An exhibition celebrating the courage and ability of disabled athletes has opened at Lausanne's Olympic Museum. Entitled "Winners," it is the work of the German photographer, Jan Michael.

This content was published on July 28, 2000 - 15:02

This year's Paralympic Games will be taking place in Sydney two weeks after the Olympics have ended. And while the disabled athletes competing in them will not receive as much attention or money as the megastars of world sport, these pictures prove they are just as competitive - and probably better embody the Olympic ideal.

"They have no problems about showing their bodies, they are perfectly comfortable. Often they even like their bodies, because it shows what they've achieved," says Michael, one of the first photographers to do portraits of these athletes.

"Sometimes it was very emotional, and on occasion I was in tears," Michael told swissinfo.

The powerful black and white pictures - some studio portraits, others action shots - concentrate on four sports: athletics, fencing, swimming and skiing. They show confident athletes at ease with themselves, despite being without limbs or sight. Even so some may find the pictures disturbing.

"The only way to show how remarkable these people are is to show their disability. You have to say, hey! This guy has no arms and no legs and he is swimming," says Michael. "But you have to show it in a human way, and not in a voyeuristic way."

He called the collection "Winners" for two reasons. Firstly, all the sportsmen and sportswomen photographed are world or Olympic champions, some of them many times over. Secondly, because merely competing is a kind of victory.

"Even the guy who comes last in his race is a winner. Even if he never wins a title, he decided to do something with his body and not to sit in a wheelchair. Some organisations for the handicapped want to keep them in their wheelchairs. They get a little worried when they see disabled people doing well at sport, because they think people won't want to give them money."

Until now, the Olympic Museum has contained very little which celebrates the paralympics, so its decision to hold the exhibition is a landmark.

"It gives these athletes some recognition, and shows that the Olympic movement cares. I think the Olympic Museum has been brave to show these pictures," says the photographer.

Michael points out that his project has been dogged by a lack of funds and a lack of interest from the sporting authorities. He hopes a wider public will now see his remarkable work and realise that these athletes can demonstrate the same level of dedication, skill and sacrifice as their able-bodied counterparts.

The exhibition runs at the Olympic Museum (www.museum.olympic.org) until September 10.

by Roy Probert

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