“Last year, the Special Eagles made it to the Amputee World Cup in Mexico,” says Jack Lawson of the football team he photographed on a beach in Nigeria – an image that was later awarded a position as one of the winning images in the first ever Portrait of Humanity award, and will now be exhibited across the globe as part of the touring exhibition. “Football has given them all a way to embrace their disabilities and do something positive.”
Limb amputation is a common procedure in Nigeria, particularly among young men. Primary causes of amputations are diabetic complications and trauma, such as road accidents. The Special Eagles refuse to be held back by their disabilities, and have made a name for themselves in Nigeria for their success on the international Amputee Football League. Earlier this year, they reached the final at the Amputee Football African Cup of Nations, a feat celebrated by Nigeria’s minister of youth and sports.
“I wanted to show their pride at being part of the team,” says Lawson, “But also the connection between all of them and how relaxed and comfortable they were.” Lawson was on assignment in Nigeria as part of a bigger project involving Goodluck Ogochukwu Obieze, the team’s captain. “We all spent a morning together on a beach just outside Lagos city centre,” he says. “The group spent a lot of time playing and messing around in the water. It was an opportunity for them to be free and have some fun.”
“For me, the Special Eagles embody the values at the heart of the Portrait of Humanity exhibition,” says Lawson. “These players have all come through difficult times and have had to deal with life affecting physical disabilities, but have come together to find a wonderful community in which they can thrive.” The photographs themselves show members of the team running and doing somersaults into the sea, and chatting together as they look out onto the horizon, as well as some close-up portraits of team members.
Having studied psychology at school, it is the human aspect of photography that motivates Lawson. “I think my interest in people has been the driving force behind what I do,” he explains. “Being part of Portrait of Humanity has been such an honour. Having these amazing people and stories shared in one place has created a brilliant global community.”
Together, we will create a Portrait of Humanity