Friday, June 3, 2016

Front to back portrays beautiful lives of people living with spina bifida

Front to Back:
Steve Kean explores beauty, stories, and 
Spina Bifida through photography

In honour of National Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Awareness Month and Quebec's week honouring persons with disabilities, l’Association de spina-bifida et d’hydrocéphalie du Québec (ASBHQ) has launched an extraordinary photography exhibition called Front to Back, featuring the work of Toronto-area photographer Steve Kean.

The exhibition includes 18 portraits of nine people who have spina bifida, each of which were eager to share their stories and body for the sake of exploration, awareness, breaking down barriers, interpretation, and beauty. 

Steve Kean at the vernissage of Front to Back, at Café L'Auditoire

Photographer Steve Kean, who was present at the show's vernissage on June 2 at Café L'auditoire on St. Laurent Boulevard in Montreal, is a commercial photographer who also has spina bifida. He is passionate about showing the inner and outer beauty of people born with the neural tube defect. In Front to Back, he focused his work on showing his subjects "as they are and how they want to be seen every day."

A unique concept, each of the nine participants is displayed in two photographs. The first is a colour portrait of their 'front', meaning their faces and front of their bodies. Front photos were taken in a setting that was most meaningful to them. The second photograph, portrayed in black and white, are nudes. They show each participant's back, where the effects of spina bifida are visible. 

Laurence Leser, Director General of ASBHQ
and  photographer Steve Kean

Spina bifida is part of a group of birth defects called neural tube defects. The neural tube is the embryonic structure that eventually develops into the baby's brain and spinal cord and the tissues that enclose them.Normally, the neural tube forms early in the pregnancy and closes by the 28th day after conception. In babies with spina bifida, a portion of the neural tube fails to develop or close properly, causing defects in the spinal cord and in the bones of the spine. Spina bifida occurs in various forms of severity. When treatment for spina bifida is necessary, it's done surgically, although such treatment doesn't always completely resolve the problem.
With Front to Back, Kean is expanding the idea of what is beautiful, asking people to rethink beautiful. "I want people to see us. That's where society needs to start," shares Kean, adding that people are too quick to see a disability and make judgements. "Well over 50 percent of people with spina bifida are unemployed. Employers see a body broken, someone who will need to take time away from the office. They don't see the skills first."

Kean showcases the stories of each individual who posed for his exhibition. These include why participants chose to have their portraits taken. Laurence shared, "I was really happy to have the opportunity to participate in Steve's project. I did not hesitate one second before agreeing to be a part of Front to Back. I saw a beautiful way of showing spina bifida. In the difference lies strength. I did not think putting the focus on my scar and my deformity would give such great pictures and that what comes out of these pictures the most is the beauty of my personality."

Kean portrays the 'front' in colour as it shows real life. The black and white 'backs' make you stop and take another look. "Black and white gets right to the theme artistically," shared Kean. The photographs help reclaim the dignity of people living with spina bifida, taking them to a place of beauty and out of the medical disability model."

Montreal is the second stop of Front to Back. It premiered in Toronto. Kean hopes to photograph people in every major city across Canada, show his exhibition, and end his tour with a grand show in Ottawa.

Kean's impactful, beautiful, thought and discussion-provoking exhibition will be on display at Café L'Auditoire, 5214 Boul. Saint-Laurent until June 9, 2016.

For information contact or 514-340-9019. For information about AHBSQ, visit


  1. Spina bifida occurs in various forms of severity. When treatment for spina bifida is necessary, it's done surgically, although such treatment doesn't always completely resolve the problem.

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