Student at Born to Perform

21st March 2022 • My Family Our Needs

Born to Perform Dance School students will feature in a new photographic exhibition of portraits taken by photographer Rory Langdon-Down, great-great-grandson of Dr John Langdon Down, known as ‘The Father of Down’s syndrome’.

The portraits will feature in an exhibition at The Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability in Teddington, south-west London, on 24th March, 23rd April, 2nd July and 3rd September 2022 following World Down’s syndrome Day on 21st March. 

The hope is that they will help break down barriers and stereotypes associated with disabilities and special educational needs, instead celebrating people with Down’s syndrome. 

Born to Perform Dance School and Day Provision is an inclusive dance and performing arts school specialising in special educational needs and disability (SEND). Its classes benefit individuals by improving their confidence, communication skill and overall mental and physical well-being. 

Dr John Langdon Down was a Victorian physician and mental health pioneer known for his work with the genetic condition known as Down’s syndrome, which he classified in 1862. After working as medical superintendent at The Royal Earlswood hospital, which was the first establishment to cater for people with developmental disabilities, Down set up his own private home for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities in Normansfield, near Teddington, which cared for and educated people who would otherwise have been condemned to life in an asylum. 

He used photography as a way to understand and study the condition of Down’s syndrome; as well as capturing the images of those under his care as they wished to be seen by society. Over 200 of his photographs survived, making the collection the largest known archive of clinical photography of the Victorian era.

His great-great-grandson Rory Langdon-Down is following in his footsteps, replicating his work by collaborating with Born to Perform. Working with the school he has created a series of eight photographs of their students with Down’s syndrome. These focus on capturing naturally impactful, beautifully real and, above all, representative portraits.

About the exhibition

Clemmie Milnes, Born to Perform Director, said: ‘The portrait project is a profound and moving way for us to honour World Down Syndrome Day.

The essence of Rory following in his footsteps of recreating John Langdon Down’s inspired portraits has been such a pleasure to produce and we cannot wait to see what the future holds for further projects in breaking down barriers and stereotypes for people with learning disabilities.’

Says Rory: ‘I had always been hesitant to combine my work with Down’s syndrome, despite being very proud of my family heritage, as I didn’t want it to feel gratuitous in any way. Working closely with Clemmie and Born to Perform and the incredible students felt completely right and a good time to combine my work with my family history.’

The portraits will be available to view at The Langdon Down Museum for Learning Disability in Teddington on 24th March, 23rd April, 2ndJuly, 3rd September. More information available here https://www.downs-syndrome.org.uk/about-dsa/our-history/memories-stories-exhibition/