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A portrait of diabetes by James Clarke


It’s an odd thing to be doing in a remote East Sussex wood. My camera is set to self timer mode, I press the shutter then run a few yards and attempt to pose, not sure whether to smile or not. Then flash and I’m captured as a smartly dressed man looking awkward in a forest. This process is repeated again and again and again until awkwardness turns to confidence or boredom, its a fine line.

What am I doing here and why? Well I’m coming towards the end of my most recent diabetes portraits project and it's time to turn the camera on myself.

Diabetes and photography don’t seem to be natural bedfellows - having diabetes has never helped me as a photographer. I have to add checking and adjusting my blood sugar before taking pictures to the blood tests I do, before eating, exercise and driving.

Some shoots can involve a bit of nervous energy and adrenaline which make blood sugar levels rise. Waiting for two hours in The Who’s management office and then having just three minutes with a grumpy Roger Daltry to get a good enough shot for the cover of a Times supplement was enough to send my blood glucose into orbit. 

On the other hand, a two mile trek to a remote village through the heat of a Guatamalan rain forest carrying all my gear made my sugar levels drop like a sack of sweet potatoes. Luckily there was a nice young lady on hand with bananas and fruit juice.

Most of the time though, there isn’t a nice lady there with emergency carbohydrates so as well as bringing a light meter and lights for my photography, I’ll always have my blood sugar meter, some glucose tablets and digestive biscuits to deal with my diabetes.

I met lots of great people with diabetes and discussed my own condition with them and others in a more upbeat and open way than I'd ever done before.

James Clarke

In recent years I’ve tried to overlap my diabetes and picture taking career. In 2010, I had an exhibition of portraits of people with diabetes that was sponsored by Diabetes UK and featured in The Times.

The idea was to find interesting and inspiring people that have diabetes and photograph them in an exciting, positive way to promote the fact that having the condition shouldn’t hold you back in life.

The exhibition was a great success and turned out to be a real milestone in my life. I met lots of great people with diabetes and discussed my own condition with them and others in a more upbeat and open way than I had ever done before.

Regardless of the exciting photographic challenges, meeting other people with diabetes is always interesting to me. Diabetes affects us all in different ways, but it’s our attitude towards it that’s the crucial factor in how we move on and get on with our lives.

So when Diabetes UK approached me last year to get some more diabetes portraits, I jumped at the chance. Since then I’ve met and photographed lots of very interesting and different individuals, all of whom have a positive attitude to their condition and I hope, make inspiring, engaging pictures.

I know it’s corny and over-used, but It’s really been an amazing journey: 25 portraits that I'm proud of, featuring engaging dynamic people.

Hopefully most people that see them, particularly those who have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, should be able to relate to one or two of them and draw some inspiration from the people featured. And the message of course is that diabetes affects us all in many ways, but should never stop us doing whatever we want to do.

A portrait of diabetes

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