The ethical questions of man’s authority to decide who gets to live and who doesn‘t are the issues addressed in Sigga Ella‘s series of photographs she names “First and foremost I am”. The series consists of 21 portraits of people who all have Down syndrome and the reason for that number is because the trisomy of the 21st chromosome causes Down syndrome. She chose to photograph people of all ages and both genders and wanted to show that each of these individuals is a person like anyone else and should not be judged by one extra chromosome.
Sigga Ella says that the idea for the project came to her when listening to a radio program where these issues were discussed. „The reason I did this project was because of this radio interview I heard, where they were discussing the ethical questions we now face, that we can choose who gets to live and who doesn’t, as the aim with prenatal diagnosis is to detect birth defects such as Down syndrome and more. Where are we headed? Will people choose not to keep an embryo if they know it has Down syndrome? I had a lovely aunt with Down syndrome, aunt Begga. It is very difficult for me to think about the elimination of Down syndrome and her at the same time.“
Sigga Ella portrays these 21 individuals in the same setting; sitting in the same chair, facing the camera, with the backdrop of a colorful flower wallpaper. The lighting is plain and simple and serves well for this purpose. Sigga Ella carefully controls the setting with that in mind, not to draw attention to anything but the subject itself. By doing so, each individual stands out and there is nothing that distracts the viewer from the person. The backdrop is colorful and happy and relates to the diversity and colourfulness of the human race. It shows us that all kinds of flowers can grow and flourish together, and we should also cherish the diversity of humans. Although Sigga Ella controls the setting, she does not control the people but rather lets them show us who they are. Each photograph shows us a person with his or her own special characteristics. Some are smiling, others giggling and hands and feet are placed freely. Sigga Ella obviously does not control them in that manner which brings out their uniqueness as individual human beings. The clothes they are wearing are all different as well and that too draws out the fact that by no means are these people all the same, although they share the same syndrome. “First and foremost I am” is an eyeopener for the beauty and diversity of mankind and makes us wonder if the future without this diversity is desirable.
-Ásdís Ásgeirsdóttir, photographer and B.A. in Art Theory. Currently finishing M.A. in Journalism