‘Assisted self-portraits’ is a collaborative photo story created in May 2020 by Charlie Fitz and Oscar Vinter. The photo story was first published in the Able Zine newsletter. Check out Able Zine's newsletter on 'Care in the time of crisis' here.

Intimacy

I am an artist, writer and sick and disabled woman. My partner, Oscar Vinter, is a neurodiverse artist and writer. We continually learn from one another. We have sited our relationship in a bubble of our own making, housed in an immaterial space of disability pride and radical acceptance and we support each other in working through and against internalised shame towards self love. We are partners in art and life and recognise the privilege of the safe space we have created together. 

There are elements of personal care in our relationship. I am the recipient. We do not struggle with that part of our relationship, it came naturally; however, we do struggle with societal perceptions and cultural representations of relationships and care. Art and creative expression are how we survive; sickness and care are just the facts of our life. In our safe space the lines between physical care, intimacy and artistic collaboration blur. Perhaps they don’t even exist, fictitious cultural ideas imposed on us. 

We are often confronted with offensive assumptions, conflating personal care with the desexualisation of the cared for individual. There seems to be a few roots to this; infantilising the sick and/or disabled, shame of bodily function and straight up ignorance. 

Examples of infantilising: “Their body is too fragile, is it safe to have sex?” “Having a sexual relationship with a disabled person is tantamount to taking advantage of them.” - This assumes the disabled person has no desire or sexual autonomy.

Examples of shaming: “How could someone find you attractive after helping you clean up your shit.” “Why would someone want to have sex with someone with prolapsing or failing pelvic and gastrointestinal organs.”

Examples of Ignorance: “Can they even have sex?” 

Centre frame is the bottom of Charlie, a white womxn in her late 20s. In frame are their hips, bottom and the top of their legs, with their hands and forearms hanging either side. They wear white, single use adult incontinence pants with the words: 'UNLEANRING/ SHAME/ BOWEL/ INCONTINENCE/ IS/ MY/ NORMAL' sewn into the back in different coloured thread for each word as follows: brown, red, orange, blue, green and black, until the word ‘NORMAL’ which repeats the colour pattern for each letter. This writing is repeated in a black cursive font layered digitally on the image on the left-hand side of the frame with an additional line: 'And/ that/ is/okay.

Bowel Incontinence Is My Normal

Assisted self-portrait & textiles October 2019

Shame

As a sick womxn my quality of life, desires and sexual pleasure have rarely been addressed in a medical setting, the issue of my fertility on the other hand is ever present. Instead of asking the female patient what they want from their lives, motherhood is always presumed. 

Centre frame the front of a nude torso from neck to belly of Charlie, a light blue solid backdrop. Arms are either side of her. There are two white, lactation pads covering her breasts. Each is embroidered with a border of pill capsules and sequins and text is painted inside the border. The left pad is embroidered with pills half white, half blue, separated by blue sequins and the text is painted in 3 different shades of blue, a shade for each word. The right breast pad is embroidered with a border of gold pill capsules and sequins, text painted in yellow and orange. The left pad reads “common side effects", the text of the right pad reads “include lactation.” Over the image in black digital embossed text, written as if on the skin of the torso, it reads from top to bottom, “domperidone is used by new mothers to promote lactation,” / “it's used by others for nausea.” / “I lactate so I can eat.” / “My milk will never be needed.” Under each breast are drops of milk.

Lactation

Assisted self-portrait & textiles May 2020

I grew up ashamed of my desire, my body, my bowels, my hunger, how loud I was and the space I took up. Becoming a sick and disabled womxn this shame was heightened. My bodily functions became more unpredictable, harder to hide. I was more aware of the space I took up as an inconvenience. i.e. Passengers on a train voicing impatience whilst waiting for my wheelchair to board or frustration at having to make space. 
I felt shame at no longer wanting motherhood, something I had previously grieved for. 
As I work through this shame. I know that my life is too painful and precarious not to enjoy cake and orgasms when I have access to them. 

Assisted Self-portraits 

All 3 pieces focus on shame, sickness & womxnhood. Through their production we explored the nature of art, intimacy and care within our relationship. The first piece was before I began using the term ‘assisted self-portrait’. I created and stage the image and gave detailed direction whilst Oscar photographed, contributing his own creative eye. To refer to these images as self-portraits would erase Oscar’s vital role. The term ‘assisted’ is an ironic nod to the ‘care’ element at the heart of the work. ‘I require physical assistance, aids and prompting’ are keywords government assessors look for when judging sick and disabled individuals for the Personal Independence Payment. 

The final two images were created during the current Coronavirus lockdown. In response to the onslaught of online toxic positivity and implicated shaming in the form of productivity during quarantine. With so many able- bodied people now homebound by the pandemic, it feels as though the chronically ill, often isolated way of life is being held under a microscope; particularly in online spaces. In this unique moment my need to create work resisting shame has felt more urgent. 


Washing... takes work

Assisted self-portrait & textiles May 2020

Centre frame is Charlie, a white womxn in her late 20s with medium length brown hair seen from above, lying diagonally across the image on top of a white shower mat which is on a sand coloured tilled bathroom floor. Her upper body is wrapped in a white towel with coloured writing across it which reads: “Some days I/ Wash/ Some I Can’t/ With/ Or/ Without/ Assistance” in purple, red, green, yellow, blue, orange. A circular tattoo is partially covered by the towel. Black text is also on the upper left of the image which reads: “Some days I wash myself/ Some days I can’t. / With or without assistance./ I refuse to be/ shamed./ into/ exhaustion.” And over the bottom right of the image: “But this/ takes work.” The womxn covers her face with her hands. On the left-hand side of the frame is a white radiator with chrome pipes and valves. At the bottom of the frame is the white pedestal of a toilet, whilst the side of a white bath runs along the right side of the image.