The Dyslexic Photographer

Let’s start with a brief and concise description of Dyslexia. The British Dyslexia Association describes it this way. Dyslexia is a learning difficulty which primarily affects reading and writing skills. However, it does not only affect these skills. Dyslexia is actually about information processing. Dyslexic people may have difficulty processing and remembering information they see and hear, which can affect learning and the acquisition of literacy skills. Dyslexia can also impact on other areas such as organisational skills. It is important to remember that there are positives to thinking differently. Many dyslexic people show strengths in areas such as reasoning and in visual and creative fields. Some also have strengths in other areas, such as design, problem solving, creative skills, interactive skills and oral skills.

That final sentence is important to photographers and gives a reason to why there are so many dyslexic photographers, there is even an argument that the dyslexic brain is perfectly wired for photography. However, I am not sure how widely known this is. There should be no stigma attached to dyslexia and yet I often meet with students hoping to study the medium who are almost apologetic about their diagnosis. I am always encouraging and supportive of such a diagnosis suggesting that it is almost a qualification for moving into the creative arts. David Bailey a dyslexic himself has said that, “I think dyslexia is a kind of privilege because it helps you to see differently from other people.” Of course he was not diagnosed as a child, such understanding was not available, but he has no issue with speaking out about his dyslexia. Ansel Adams was also dyslexic.

I have met, worked with and known of many dyslexic photographers.

I have also recommended photography to friends of mine with children recently diagnosed with dyslexia as a past-time to encourage a sense of confidence and achievement. Each time it has worked.

Visual problem solving is central to photography, therefore the skills dyslexia emphasizes are perfect in making the dyslexic student feel successful, in control and appreciated for a talent true to who they are. Important feelings for someone struggling with conventional academic standards of achievement.

I have taught photography to many dyslexic photography students, encouraging them to engage with the medium however they can. Researching through audio books, talks and films rather than conventional reading. Thinking about the bigger picture rather than detail in their writing. Simple suggestions but ones that seem to work.

In a sense this article should not need to exist, but I have written it for those who do feel a stigma attached to dyslexia, a language-based learning disability, that does not have to be seen as a disability. If we see photography as a visual language – which is how I see and teach the medium – it allows those who struggle with formal language to excel in communication with language in a different form. Flipping the idea of language and providing a different understanding of what is possible is central to photographic narrative creation, of visual storytelling and creative problem solving. Dyslexia in that sense should be seen as a photographic super power, not an issue that needs to be overcome. As the British Dyslexia Association state, “Ten percent of the population are believed to be dyslexic, but it is still often poorly understood. With the right support, the strengths and talents of dyslexic people can really shine.”

For more information on dyslexia visit: www.bdadyslexia.org.uk

Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com. He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.

© Grant Scott 2022

5 comments

  1. I also want to say thanks to Homer for sharing his story. So much of it resonates with me. At school in the late 50’s and early 60’s they were less ‘delicate’ in the state system – In writing and reading I was described as ‘thick’ and like Homer could do other things like sports. Many many years later my wife one day said your dyslexic ! 50 years of my life suddenly made some sort of sense……I now understood why looking thorough the viewfinder of a camera stopped things jumping around and I could tell a story without being branded ‘thick’….thanks for taking on this important topic.

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