UK charity leader and polar adventurer, Michael McGrath, who has muscular dystrophy, reacts to one of fifty photographs in a major new online exhibition

Reflections in Colour, launched on 10 May 2021, is a series of pictures born of the friendship between a businessman and a successful cinematographer.

The close bond between Dr Andrew Robertson, who has limb girdle muscular dystrophy, and Chris Howard, both from Kent, was sparked during a Kent Castle Walk

Fifty people with different muscle-wasting conditions share how the pictures make them feel. A percentage of profits from the exhibition will be donated to Muscular Dystrophy UK (MDUK).

Michael McGrath is the only disabled person to have reached both the North and South Poles. The North Pole expedition in April 2002 raised significant funds for Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, for which Michael was a Trustee at the time. His story of courage and determination was life-changing for Andrew Robertson, who heard him talk soon after he himself had been diagnosed with limb girdle muscular dystrophy.

Andrew, 40, runs his own business and lives with his wife and eight-year-old son.

He said:

I heard Michael at the first-ever MDUK event I attended. He described how he had refused to allow his disability to stop him becoming a successful business and family man and how he went on to conquer the poles. His words, all those years ago, have sustained me in my journey with muscular dystrophy and in my belief that life is what you make it.

Michael is one of the people to have given his reflection on one of the photographs which is part of the new online exhibition. Andrew, who volunteers as a peer-to-peer supporter for MDUK, and his friend, Chris Howard, developed the exhibition together. Alongside each picture, Andrew recorded the thoughts of people from all over the UK. They all have muscle-wasting conditions and they included pictures of themselves and brief descriptions of their lives.  Most of the 50 are friends Andrew has made along his journey.

Retired Director of Photography, Chris has worked in film and television all over the world, with credits from film classics like North Sea Hijack and International Velvet, through countless commercials, documentaries and television shows including Minder, Peak Practice and Soldier Soldier and more recently New Tricks and Doc Martin.

He has created all the photographs. The exhibition, which features very high-quality prints which are mounted on Foamex 3mm board and printed in Scotland, are available to buy through Chris’ website.

Andrew said:

My friendship with Chris developed after he organised the Kent Castle Walk, four years ago, in aid of MDUK. The idea for ‘Reflections in Colour’ was born after we shared a cup of tea after the walk.  Chris’ photograph named ‘Pot of Tree’ was a symbol of sharing and fun. We named the new fundraising campaign ‘Pot of Tree’ so we could share the photographs and reflections with everyone.

 

Every sale will result in a donation to MDUK. Chris’ daughter also has muscular dystrophy, and after that first experience together, Chris and I would often meet for coffee. I was blown away by his wonderful artwork, and what we originally planned as an actual show in a Whitstable art gallery has become a virtual exhibition.

Chris said:

When I met Andrew his enthusiasm and energy made everything possible. We have remained very good friends. The Gorse Bush was my first image in Reflections in Colour and was taken in Suffolk….blue sky, ploughed fields. Then an image with only the yellow of the gorse bush.

 

I simply joined the two images….the reflection appears as though in a pool of water…..but the sky is not blue and the gorse bush is not correctly reflected. The reflection is different…but still beautiful.  The result made me think that not everything in life is as it appears. Just as life does not always go in the direction you hoped for. As Andrew says, ‘life is what you make of it.’

As an example of how people react to the photographs, Andrew has described what the image, Folkestone yellow hut means to him.

The vibrant colours, which are fun and playful, show that with the right mind-set, regardless of disability or where you are health wise you can still enjoy life. The sky conjures up images of travel by aeroplane and with it a slight anxiety of the complexities of travelling as an electric wheelchair user. The beach setting reminds me of holidays by the sea. If you can overcome the challenges of travel you can enjoy the freedom and excitement that it brings to explore new lands.

 

Finally, the beach hut itself is an island surrounded by shingle stones. Virtually impassable by electric wheelchair. This shows that at times life with a muscle disease can be desolate and lonely, cut off from everyday life. Very few people understand how this can leave you feeling.

 

Colour is everywhere. It’s above us, beneath us and all around us. It’s in how we feel and how we express ourselves. And since photographs are an invention, they are much more than just holding up a mirror to reality. These pictures are a meditation in colour on how our world can be seen and how it’s possible to see beneath the image. Perhaps the mental strength that is needed to cope with the everyday?

Louise Moffat, MDUK Regional Development Manager for London, South East and East England, said:

I am filled with admiration for the work Andrew and Chris have done to create this extensive exhibition and I am very grateful to them for donating to MDUK through the sales. The images are unique, beautiful and all a very high quality. I can’t decide which one I would choose to hang on my wall.

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