As part of our commissioning strand of our programme, Dexter McLean was invited to create a new photographic series for our Black History Month commission. We spoke with Dexter about his work and the process behind this new series. 

This headshot portrait of Suzie shows a black woman in her 60s facing the camera from the left with a relaxed, calm expression. Her hair is dark and tied up in braids on top of her head. Over a dark hooded coat or jacket she wears a purple and blue s Looking very slightly away from the camera, Martina is a white woman in her 40s with long brown hair tied back in a ponytail and wearing a knitted mauve top with a round neck. Although her lips form an even line, a slightly raised brow suggests a hin This portrait photograph is of Maxine. This is almost a full length portrait of a black woman in her 60s, with finely braided dark hair piled up in a neat bun, and who wears a dark purple winter coat and black and white spot-printed scarf with vibran This colour portrait photograph of Emma, shows a white woman in her 40s with square rimmed glasses and dark wiry hair tied back behind her head. She looks slightly to the side of the camera and has a full smile with prominent teeth. Although the imag
This colour photograph is a portrait of Abdul, a black man in his early 30s, who stands before a plain wall with his head turned to face the camera. His expression is soft, hinting at a slight smile. His grey hoodie and short afro hair is caught slig Debbie, a white woman in her 40s, with tied back blonde hair who faces the camera with an even smile that just shows her teeth. She wears a long sleeved black top that makes her stand out against the plain white backdrop, her portrait sitting central This portrait headshot of Sunnil shows a brown man in his 40s facing the camera from the right of the image with a broad smile that matches his jovial expression. He has greying dark hair with a fringe swept aside and a faint beard of greyish stubble This headshot portrait photograph is of Farida, a brown woman in her 60s whose grey-white hair is tied back loosely so that part of it falls over her brow. She wears large dark-rimmed glasses and smiles in a composed way from the left of the image, f

Check out Dexter's new commission 'Unsung Heroes'

Why did you title this series 'Unsung Heroes'?

Mainly because the NHS gets so much attention with a focus on how heroic everyone in the NHS is. I don't disagree with this, the NHS is amazing and everyone who works for it is a hero, but regular carers, support workers, teachers, and learning assistants for the disabled get none. They were just as pressured during the pandemic, and continually face unknown challenges whilst making a huge difference to peoples lives.

Tell us about your experiences at school and why your photographic subjects mean so much to you and your artistic practice.

Some of these people were members of staff at the school when I was a student there over ten years ago. These people helped me to get to where I am today, they helped me on my path to university, and beyond. Now I feel like I need to talk about them more because I don't feel the media represents them equally, and they haven't been given the recognition they deserve.

Why is it important to you to shine a light of marginalised communities?

Because I am from these communities. I don't think they are represented accurately in the media, and now I want to use my work to help change those narratives. The disabled, and black communities are both under represented and mis-represented most of the time in the media. I am just using my voice where I can to talk about the people who I care about. I used my close network of friends and family often throughout the pandemic, as being a disabled person holds you back when trying to find subjects to shoot. By relying on my network I am just playing to my strengths - I am very lucky to have such a close and caring set of people surrounding me. 

What were some of the highlights of the creative process for you?

It was really nice to include Martina in the series of images. She was my art teacher when I was at the school, and she is the person who helped make this set of images possible. We've always had a good friendship. She has followed me and my career since I left the school, and it is really nice to put her in front of the lens and try to recognise her as one of the people who are integral in getting so many disabled people into the positions they are into today, like myself, achieving so much despite all of the challenges we face.

Do you feel strongly that your work has a purpose? A call to action?

I am not advocating for any specific changes with my work. I am capable of raising awareness around my subject sand the problems marginalised communities face, and by putting focus on the people there is a chance that mainstream media will pick up the work. Generally speaking my work aims to engage people in conversations they would normally have about these communities, and by starting these conversations, practical changes with society are more likely to be made. It all starts with a conversation and recognition.

What else is in store for fans of Dexter McLean?

I am continually looking for opportunities and people to shoot. I have a project at the moment I am calling 'black leaders' where I am shooting members of the black community who have achieved great things. So far my subjects include people like Trevor Phillips and Dawn Butler. I am also fund raising for a project that continues on from my masters, where I will be returning to Jamaica to shoot disabled communities in order to highlight what it is like to live with disability in a developing country.

Support Dexter's GoFundMe campaign

Find Dexter on Facebook  Dexter's Instagram

Artist support at Shape

As part of our mission to support disabled creatives and change the cultural landscape for the better, we regularly commission new works either as part of our main Arts Council England-funded programme or as one-off projects. On our website you can explore our recent collaborations and commissions and find out more about the artists behind them. 

Read Dexter's artist profile   Explore our Black History Month commissions