Camera-Wielding Social Worker Exposes the Stigmatization of Disability
Dmitry Markov‘s telling of a father and son’s struggle reveals love and resourcefulness in the absence of Russian state support
Words and photos by Dmitry Markov
This is the story of Ruslan, a single disabled father raising his sick son, Vitya, in the Russian city of Pskov. Ruslan’s daily life is complicated. Restricted to a wheelchair, his time is predominantly occupied by concerns of transportation and the struggle to provide food and safety for young Vitya.
The family is really on the edge.
By Russian law, in the event that a father fails to perform his duties — sending his child to school and applying for disability status — he may be restricted in his parental rights and his child may be taken into state custody. Unfortunately, the system does not provide disabled people with daily care and support at home to alleviate this problem. Nonetheless, there are non-profit organizations and individuals in the city who have taken over these functions.
These photographs are a commentary on the status of socially disadvantaged groups in Russia, where private groups are often forced to fill in when the state has fallen short.
I volunteer with disabled children for an NGO called Rostok. First and foremost, I am stunned by Ruslan’s story. Looking at a lonely, ill person doing his best to take care of his son, I am impressed by his determination to survive and provide for Vitya. His story is moment for reflection. His story is one in which healthy people may understand the many things they take for granted.
The social exclusion of disabled people is an important issue … and a difficult one to overcome in Russia.
Most Russians don’t consider a disabled person as being on equal footing. People donate money to feel good about “solving the problem” but they do not think about the depth or complexity of the situation. Discussions of human rights to work and education are presented only as abstract and immaterial concepts, when in fact they are fundamental to the well being of any person, disabled or not.
Compounding the issue, very many people with disabilities are not particularly keen, or positioned, to change the situation. Ruslan, who grew up in a wheelchair, does not seek self improvement; he does not look for work or to advance his education. Prevailing attitudes only help to position disabled people as victims. These self-perpetuating attitudes do not address the root causes of, or fundamental solutions to, the social stigmatization of disabled people.
Gray Brick Road focuses on the relationship between a father and son who live in very difficult and limited circumstances. Ruslan’s case can only be discussed in the context of his basic rights and the appropriate level of social support. Those things have been lacking. What can my pictures say about a man who has lived 40 years in a wheelchair?
As for Ruslan’s son, Vitya, there is hope for, and indication of, some progress. Increasingly in the city of Pskov, there are new services for people with disabilities. Society is gradually learning to accept these people and, as with Rostock and the other aid organizations, we just have to keep moving in the right direction. Perhaps the changes are not so significant for each individual case, but eventually we will reach a fundamental shift. If we keep working, things will change.
Based in San Francisco, Catchlight helps visual storytellers find their voice and supports photographers in the creation of new work. Through partnerships with media organizations, Catchlight distributes work through traditional channels and across new platforms. Catchlight produces additional content around photographers’ work to add context and enrich the experience. Live and virtual events coordinated by Catchlight connect visual storytellers directly with their audiences for more intimate and meaningful exchanges.