Disability in 2012: Ian Farrant
At 16, Ian Farrant had life figured out. A sporty and sociable young man, he'd finished school and was looking forward to a summer of fun before knuckling down to a chef's traineeship.
But on a trip to Margate one hot afternoon, a diving accident changed Ian's world forever. "The tidal pool hadn't been drained so it was deceptively shallow," he says. "I broke my neck and floated to the top, unable to move."
Ian spent the next year in hospital. "I lay with my head in traction, screws everywhere, thinking 'what have I done?'" The news was hard to take in. Ian has tetraplegia - he is paralysed from the chest down and has difficulty using his hands.
"While my mates were thinking about football and girls, I was coming to terms with being incontinent and using a wheelchair. It was like 'bam' – in a split second I'd lost my old life. How do you get your head around that?"
Now 33, Ian says the only way to recover from the trauma that comes with such devastating news is slowly. "You accept the lows and celebrate each breakthrough. My family and friends were great. They encouraged me to stay independent and set myself goals."
As soon as he was out of hospital, Ian signed up to classes at his local college. Putting aside his dream to be a chef was hard, but a vital step in Ian's recovery. "Working in a fast-paced kitchen was no longer an option," he explains. "I needed a new plan."
Becoming a photographer
That plan came in the shape of a small digital camera. "I have problems gripping objects. I can't unscrew a lid or use a knife, but I was able to hold this camera and take pictures," he says. "At first my photographs were dire, but it felt good to be creative and document what was going on around me."
As Ian's pictures improved, so did his confidence. He studied photography at college, then university. Last year, he finished a master's degree graduating with a distinction. "Academia was a challenge: I needed help to get around on shoots, plus I'm dyslexic so the writing was hard. But there I was, in my cap and gown. How would I describe that feeling? Mind-boggling!"
Ian says his unique perspective helps him stand out in the competitive field of commercial photography. "Because I'm sitting down, I usually shoot up at my subjects, which gives them an air of power. I like portraiture because it helps me capture the essence of people, often through the smallest movement."
Planning every shoot, frame by frame, is vital in Ian's work. "I can't just turn up. I need to think: can I get into that room, are there stairs? I have to work out the light conditions and give myself time to change the camera settings. Once I've got the shot set up, I hold the shutter button in my mouth and use my lips to take the picture. A lot of strategy goes into my work."
Ian's latest project is with disabled athletes, including current Paralympians Nigel Murray who is a boccia champion, and judo expert, Joe Ingram. "I watched them play and saw their faces light up with joy. These are top athletes, travelling the world for their sport. It was an inspiration."
A picture Ian took of a war veteran was short-listed for the National Portrait Prize last year but didn't make the final cut. "I was chuffed to make it into the top 200," he says. "I'm still new to photography, so I'll keep working at it and try again this year."
Today, Ian's life is packed full of work, family and love. He married in 2000, the girl who – literally – lived next door. "A bottle of wine and a kiss later, the rest was history," he says.
After his accident, doctors said Ian could never be a father. He's just celebrated the birth of his baby son, the couple's fifth child. "What can I say? Sometimes, they get it wrong. I don't limit my life because of other people's expectations.
"I look back now and think how lucky I am. If the break on my neck was any higher, I wouldn't be able to hold a camera in my hands. Photography is what defines me, not my disability. It's become my philosophy. You have to work hard at photography to get it right – it's a bit like life really, isn't it?"
To see more of Ian's photographs, check out www.ianfarrant.co.uk