Willesden dad hosts free photo exhibition to challenge pre-conceived beliefs about Down’s syndrome

Richard Bailey with daughter Billie-Jo (Picture: Richard Bailey)

Richard Bailey with daughter Billie-Jo (Picture: Richard Bailey) - Credit: Archant

A Willesden photographer whose daughter has Down’s syndrome is hosting a free exhibition to challenge pre-conceived ideas about the condition.

Positive Energies, by Fumio Nabata

Positive Energies, by Fumio Nabata - Credit: Archant

Positive Energies opens tomorrow (Wed) and is running at the gallery@oxo, on the South Bank, until Monday.

The exhibition showcases the work of Richard Bailey, who lives in Kings Road, Fiona Yaron-Field and Fumio Nabata, an award-winning social documentary photographer.

They will each display intimate images of people shot in the UK, South Africa, Japan, and Burma.

Richard’s daughter Billie-Jo was born with the genetic condition, which happens as a result of an extra chromosome.

Richard Bailey with daughter Billie-Jo (Picture: Richard Bailey)

Richard Bailey with daughter Billie-Jo (Picture: Richard Bailey) - Credit: Archant

The 52-year-old said: “Before Billie-Jo was born I didn’t really know anything about Down’s syndrome.

“As a kid I went to care homes with my mum and the ones I met seemed quite institutionalised.

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“When Billie-Jo was born, I thought: ‘That isn’t going to happen to her.’”

The 18-year-old was the first pupil with Down’s Syndrome to be educated at Queens Park Community School, which her younger brother Daniel, 15, and 13-year-old sister Cydney currently attend.

Richard Bailey with daughter Billie-Jo (Picture: Richard Bailey)

Richard Bailey with daughter Billie-Jo (Picture: Richard Bailey) - Credit: Archant

She has started a three-year land-based studies course at Derwen College in Shropshire, which caters for young people of various learning abilities.

“The level of care is absolutely wonderful,” said Richard, “and the college has a student union and elections for union presidents.

“It’s run very much along the lines of a typical university experience.

“She lives in a halls of residence with 12 other girls and is having the time of her life. She has made some great friends and now even has a boyfriend.”

He focuses on the workforce in this exhibition, where he has captured individuals fulfilling their dreams.

Richard added: “People with Down’s are not all the same. The public may think they look the same so they are the same.

“People with learning difficulties are individuals. They can live wonderful lives and be part of the community and wider society whether at work or in their family unit.

“We also need to show parents that having a Down’s baby is going to be a shock, for everybody – grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts – but it isn’t this big bad picture people seem to paint.”

He mentions statistics from the Down’s Syndrome Association reporting that 80 per cent of DSA members who want to work are not in work.

Since non-invasive tests were introduced in the UK, more than 90pc of parents who are told that their unborn child has Down’s syndrome choose to have a termination.

Fiona’s images are of women who are pregnant and know they are carrying a child with Down’s.

Richard said: “Fiona’s work is quite poignant now with the introduction of non invasive blood tests which are 100pc accurate, “It can be very important what advice expectant mothers are given when they take a blood test that turns out to be positive for Down’s syndrome.

“The medical profession can be quite negative when giving advice about particular conditions, so it would be important that they are given a rounded view of Down’s syndrome before making any choices.

“I’m just glad that we didn’t have a test and that we didn’t have a doctor telling us that our child would ‘amount to nothing’.

“When she was first born, I sat in the hospital ward with my wife and wondered how on earth I was going to live with her.

“Now, this beautiful, sensitive, clever, loving child has enriched my life in so many ways, I have no idea how I could ever live without her.”

Fiona added: “The implication of these tests could lead society to determine that those born with Down’s syndrome are destined to be unhappy and that their lives are worthless.”

Of her images she said: “These woman are resisting this ideal image of family and choosing to make their own informed choice.

“They are willing to construct a family which is different and reject the societal view.

“They are not religious or pro-life – they are pro-choice, embracing the new challenge that faces them.”

The exhibition is at Oxo Tower Wharf from 11am to 6pm daily. There is access for visitors with disabilities.

Admission is free.

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