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What It's Like To Live With Physical Disability (NSFW)

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    Photo: Courtesy Of Sophie Klafter.

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    This story was originally published on May 11, 2015.

    Often, the stories that are told about people with physical differences center on what they cannot do. Born with the rare neuromuscular disorder Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), which damages nerves in the arms and legs, Sophie Klafter is familiar with difference. "I have had to view things other people took for granted from a different perspective," she writes on her website. "Since childhood, I have had to be sharply observant of my surroundings — details such as little grooves in the pavement or uneven bricks on the sidewalk could make the difference between a pleasant outing and a catastrophic fall."

    To conduct a dialogue with her environment and her own limitations, Klafter turned to self-portraiture. She then began photographing others with physical differences. "I not only wanted to create portraits of disabled people functioning out in the world; I also wanted their life stories," she explains. "I wanted to go into their homes, meet their families, hold their possessions, and hear their stories of perseverance. I wanted to truly capture their spirit and what it was like for them to go through life in an atypical body. I wanted others to experience their corporeality." Klafter's project, "corpoReality," now on display at Brooklyn's The Invisible Dog, pairs 24 dynamic portraits with descriptions of their subjects' passions, achievements, vocations — their capabilities. The photos convey that the physically disabled, like anyone else, are moving the bodies they have towards the dreams they carry. Read on for our Q&A with Klafter, and click through to see her striking portraits.

    How did you connect with the different photo subjects?
    "I spent a lot of time finding my subjects, but some of them I met in the most random ways. I’ve posted ads on small-town signposts and Craigslist alike. I’ve also contacted hospitals, rehabilitation centers, support groups, and adaptive sports programs to see if anyone was interested in being part of my project... I have become close friends with almost all of my subjects, and I still keep in touch with every one of them."

    How did you photograph your subjects to best reflect their individuality and interests?
    "The work featured in 'corpoReality' took me nearly three years to put together. The reason for this is twofold. I spent much more time looking for the right people than I did actually taking pictures. Secondly, I spend a lot of time getting to know them, before I even start taking pictures. Each person I’ve photographed has a truly unique story to tell, and my job is to help tell it — I go to their homes, meet their families, find out what their challenges have been and what they love about themselves. This is what I mean by a person’s 'corpoReality'... I think part of the beauty of this series is that [the subjects] share my excitement for what I’m trying to accomplish. Just like anybody, they were sometimes bashful for the first few moments in front of the camera...but I would never publicize an image of someone who was not comfortable with the portrait."

    Were there any surprises in the creative process?
    "I didn’t expect for the project to be so emotionally difficult. Each one of my subjects has faced extreme challenges in their lives, many of which made me cry... But, each of them has found a way to surpass the negativity and move forward with their lives. I can easily say that they are the most incredible and beautiful people I have ever met. To me, they are not just my subjects; they are my friends. It was extremely important to me to paint them in the most honest way possible."


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    Chloe
    "Over 10 years ago, Chloe had a spinal cord injury after an accident. She is a mixed-media artist about to begin an artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center in June."

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    "Chloe is a 2014 gold-medal paraclimbing master. With her new leg braces, she is looking forward to hiking in Vermont and rock climbing out west. She also enjoys the challenge of ice climbing."

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    Adam
    "Born with Down syndrome, Adam enjoys working at Chili’s. He loves bodybuilding and is an avid athlete."

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    Geri
    "Geri is a disability awareness advocate and speaker who was born with diastrophic dysplasia."

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    Jeff
    "Born with Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, Jeff is an accomplished lawyer. He also has degrees in mathematics and engineering, and is the proud father of three."