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Unexpected beauty

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In the late ’90s, aspiring fashion photographer Courtney Bent began teaching a workshop in photography at a center for people with significant disabilities in Watertown, Mass. Using cameras adapted to fit her students’ unique physical needs, Bent’s workshop was designed to provide a new avenue of expression to a group of people who often found it difficult to communicate. The workshop developed into a project called “Picture This,” which in turn evolved into an award-winning photography program for disabled people.

Often, what’s interesting about these photographs by disabled photographers is their unusual vantage point. As many are in wheelchairs, people tend to tower over them. Also captured is the way their subjects regard them, as seen in a shot called Suspicious, evidently taken on a bus or subway.

Hearing about the work Bent was doing, filmmaker George Kachadorian began his own documentation of her project and the impact it was having on those involved. Ten years later, his documentary Shooting Beauty was the inspiring result.

The film was a hit at festivals, picking up eight audience awards. Thanks to Shooting Beauty’s popularity, the impact of Bent’s initial effort only continued to grow. Inspired by viewers’ reactions to the film, she and Kachadorian created the Shooting Beauty Project, an initiative that uses art to challenge society’s stereotypes of disabled residents and redefine conventional ideas of beauty. The Shooting Beauty Project now includes a school program for grades 6 through 12, a college lecture series, and a traveling photography workshop for people with and without disabilities.

See why the film and its subjects have had such a lasting effect when Shooting Beauty screens at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art on Monday, March 18, at 7 p.m., for a suggested donation of $7 ($5 for members). The screening is inspired by the SLOMA exhibit “Destination: The Big Picture,” a group photography show hanging throughout March.

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