Disability as the world’s largest minority
The photograph shows an unfinished story - it was taken at a moment of chaos and shock. The full gravity of the accident has not registered to anyone on the scene: the injured, the medics, and the bystanders. Taken from a higher position, the photo is a gaze downwards onto an accident removed from the immediate surroundings of the photographer. There is a certain voyeurism attached to this disconnected observation from afar. The subjects are faceless: while we see a man being stretchered off, we do not know the extent of his injuries, and whether he ever recovered enough to walk again.
The open-endedness of the story contrasts with the emphasis on concreteness and irreversibility in the archive’s other depictions of the ‘crippled.’ This is one of two photographs of New York City car accidents that are included under the archive’s “disability” tag. Perhaps the photograph’s purpose was to show the various healthcare and emergency response infrastructures in different countries, but its inclusion ultimately creates a particular narrative about disability. This is how one becomes disabled - through acts of sudden, unexpected flashes of violence and misfortune. This is how the beginning of a disabled person’s story is often told: through the lens of tragedy that now dictates the rest of that narrative.
A version of this essay appears on the Invisible Histories Project website.