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Through the lens of Christopher Diedo

PUBLISHED: 10:00 27 September 2012 | UPDATED: 10:07 27 September 2012

Chris and his Dad Andrew

Chris and his Dad Andrew

Archant

Chris is an award-winning amateur photographer, and doesn't let his Down's Syndrome hold him back. Anna Dubuis finds out what makes him click…

Christopher Diedo: Grave Shadows "It's of a gravestone with the shadows of iron railings falling over the words on the stone. I like it because it's spooky."Christopher Diedo: Grave Shadows "It's of a gravestone with the shadows of iron railings falling over the words on the stone. I like it because it's spooky."

Where words fail, pictures can speak. For Chris Diedo, photography allows him to share his world with others without having to utter a word.

Chris has Down’s syndrome and severe learning difficulties with speech and language problems.

However, this hasn’t kept the 27-year-old from Dartford from becoming a talented photographer who has exhibited across the world and won various accolades for his work.

It was his father Andrew, a keen amateur photographer, who introduced him to the camera.

“While I was growing up I was always with my dad and he usually had a camera with him. I watched as he took pictures of me and my family. Dad would give the camera to me when he wanted to be in the picture himself,” Chris explains.

In 2007, while helping to take down Andrew’s photo exhibition at the Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford, Chris decided he wanted his own display.

Andrew says: “Chris walked straight up to Nicola Bowden, the centre manager, and I heard him say to her ‘what about me?’ Her reply given without hesitation was ‘why not?’”

So Chris spent the next two years building up a portfolio of pictures.

Andrew would send his son on assignments to photograph people in the high street or reflections in shop windows.

Chris also developed his own technique of holding his camera at an angle to the horizon.

At first Andrew tried to correct it but then came to appreciate this as a feature that makes Chris’ photography individual to him.

When his exhibition opened in 2009 at the Mick Jagger Centre, Chris had 60 images on show, each printed by himself in his bedroom.

“I found it very exciting,” he said. “All of my friends knew I had an exhibition and people read about it in the newspapers. My dad used to tell me I was a good photographer but when I had my exhibition so did everyone else.”

In the three years since he has exhibited in New York, London and more recently in Malta where his family are from.

His inspirations, he says, come from going to new places and meeting people.

“Most of the people I take pictures of want to talk to me and I enjoy this,” he says.

Thankfully Chris has never experienced animosity from people he photographs which Andrew says has given Chris confidence to approach strangers with his camera.

It is a confidence that had to be rebuilt after an attack in Dartford town centre two years ago. While Chris and his parents were walking to their car, a man insulted him and punched him in the face.

In March 2011, the 25-year-old from Bexleyheath was jailed for 170 days after pleading guilty to common assault.

Chris was traumatised by the attack and tried to leave home several times, afraid his assailant would come back to find him, but he has found a way to feel confident again.

A large aspect of Chris’ photography is to challenge people’s attitudes towards those with Down’s syndrome, something his family have long campaigned for.

Educated first at a special school, Chris became the first pupil with Down’s syndrome to be placed on the full-time roll of a mainstream primary school in north-west Kent when his parents won an appeal to place him at school with older siblings David and Rebekah.

Andrew says: “Hopefully Chris has taken a big step in showing the public what people with Down’s syndrome can do when people believe in them and give them opportunities.

“Sometimes people have difficulty understanding what Chris is saying to them, but his photographs transcend verbal language.

“We have to look at the person first and not the syndrome. Christopher is an amateur photographer with Down’s syndrome and not a Down’s syndrome photographer.”

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