|Erwin Goris, Volunteer|
No, your mother… is not crazy. And neither, contrary to popular belief, is your brother crazy. He’s merely miscast in a play. He was born in the wrong era, on the wrong side of the river… (Rumble Fish – F.F. Coppola 1983)
Few people will agree, but I’ll claim it anyway. Rumble Fish is by far the best movie ever made about the relation between 2 brothers. The main character of the movie, a boy called Rusty James, looks up to his older brother, the has-been band leader ‘The Motorcycle Boy’. He tries to understand him, to follow in his footsteps but he never succeeds. He never even comes close. A lot of people call this mellow romance for 16-year olds. I call it a magnificent masterpiece by a brilliant filmmaker with an important deeply human theme.
But what happens when your older brother dies at a very young age? When this brother has a handicap that is never spoken about. Well, then your search takes a very long time, you travel for 2000 miles and you end up making a photo essay.
Panayiotis Lamprou was born in Greece in 1975. He is a professional photographer. His older brother was born with Down syndrome. He died when he was very young. Of course, this made a profound impression on the young artist. When he was 25, he decided to really start looking for answers about his brother and people with a mental disability. For a European project, he traveled to Belgium as a volunteer. He worked there for half a year in an institution for people with a mental disability. During this period, he met some people from ‘De Kreek’. This is a relatively small non-profit organization (NPO) that already exists for more than 20 years. ‘De Kreek’ organizes creative summer camps and weekends for people with a mental disability. When the European project ended, Panayiotis went back to Greece. The basic idea for this photographic project however was already formed. It would take more than three years and a lot of effort before its final realization.
The project has two clearly distinctive parts. The first part contains pictures taken in the Dr. Guislain museum in Ghent, Belgium. This museum is located in a mental hospital. Its founder, Dr Guislain, was a pioneer in the treatment of people with a mental disability and psychiatric problems. The work of people like him has led to a much more human treatment of these people, together with scientific research. The museum has a large collection of documents and objects that give an overview of the ever changing attitude of society towards these people. And pure horror it once was… People tend to hate what they don’t understand. There was a lot that they didn’t grasp.
The second part of the photo essay are pictures made on a summer camp of ‘De Kreek’, july 2005. Maybe some of these pictures look ordinary at first sight: pictures of a summer camp, no different from the ones turning yellow in your closet. Just take a closer look. Look at the expressions on their faces. Look at the wide range of emotions. You don’t just see happy faces. There are also bored, happy, extremely serious faces. All too often, people with a mental disability are rather disrespectfully categorized as ‘cute’ or ‘happy’.
Maybe you’re offended by some of the pictures. You see a full grown man dressing up as a woman and you feel embarrassed. You see a man on the street, almost naked. Keep in mind that this camp is a micro-cosmos, where they can be themselves. They are treated with the utmost respect. There are no strict rules, their guidance is extremely individual.
Look at the pictures with an open mind, and enjoy.