For a second year, creative director Gary Harvey teamed up with Viewpoint to create a stunning set of images of people with a learning disability.
On a sunny August day at a studio in east London, ten models with a learning disability gather for a photoshoot with ex-Levis Europe creative director Gary Harvey. Handpicked by Gary from numerous applicants, the models' arrival is the culmination of months of work calling in outfits, planning logistics and pulling together a team of fashion industry professionals.
"Last year's Viewpoint shoot was the best job I did all year," says Gary, who has a brother and sister with a learning disability. "I just loved it - I loved the unpretentiousness. So often I work with people who are ungrateful for what they have. On the Viewpoint shoots I get so much out of people."
For Gary, the shoot is a chance to present people with a learning disability in a way they are rarely, if ever, seen in the fashion press. "It's been interesting planning this shoot - people [in the industry] show interest, but when I ask for pages in their magazines, they say it's not their thing. And fair enough it isn't, but I wish it was. Fashion just isn't accommodating, and disability is not top of the agenda."
Photographer Robert Decelis, who has worked on both Viewpoint shoots, agrees: "The Viewpoint shoots are the first project I've worked on with people with a learning disability. There's still prejudice in fashion. It would be nice to see any difference to what we see at the moment – the stereotypical catwalk model."
The over-arching theme of the shoot was that of high end sophistication – think James Bond for the boys and glamorous leading ladies for the girls. Jessica Bromley, 28, one of the models chosen by Gary, revelled in the look. "I love fashion, and I loved posing for the camera," she said. "I feel like a famous person, or a film star."
As Jessica and the other nine models arrived, they were introduced to Gary and his team before being whisked into hair and makeup. They then changed into their outfit for the day before stepping in front of the camera and taking direction from Gary and Robert. "I liked posing and moving around," said 21-year-old Rita Acan. "I've not done anything like it before. It's a bit strange, as I'm not used to dressing glamorously."
For everyone involved, it was important that the project reflected the spectrum of learning disability, including profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD).
Clare Smith, 37, who has PMLD and is unable to communicate verbally, was accompanied to the shoot by her home manager, Kate Walton, and her key worker, Carley Wakefield. "People with PMLD are often just not visible," says Kate. "People assume that they are ugly, or unable to do anything, or have nothing to offer. Though Clare doesn't pose for photos, she looks stunning. I was so chuffed for her when she was picked."
Over the course of the day, each model brought their own personality to the shoot. And for 34-year-old model Michael Howard, from Oldham, the photoshoot represented a chance to make people with a learning disability more visible. "There aren't a lot of people with disabilities on television, and not enough in magazines. I think if more people with a learning disability are shown out there then people will have more understanding, and won't be so prejudiced.