This project traces the eccentricity and Welsh pride of Dagmar Bennett’s stylish uncle
Wanting to focus on the possibilities rather than barriers for people with disabilities, filmmaker Dagmar Bennett and photographer Stefy Pocket collaborate on Uncle Keith.
- Yaya Azariah Clarke
- 6 December 2023
Growing up, Dagmar Bennett was in perpetual awe of her uncle Keith’s flamboyant and eccentric style. Standing out from the crowd, in the small village in Wales that she and her uncle are from, she says, “the contrast between his style and attitude, and the town have always been refreshing”. Longing to create a body of work that captures this, alongside his experience as a person with a disability, the creative director and filmmaker began working on Village Style – a documentary for BBC Cymru Wales as a part of its New Voices From Wales series. And while Village Style showcases his individual flair, Dagmar wanted us to see that little bit more, in the form of a independent series titled Uncle Keith.
When the idea came to mind, Dagmar first contacted her dear friend and photographer, Stefy Pocket. “I just knew she would understand the subject matter,” Dagmar says. Stefy often documents subcultures and mass events around the world, from ceremonies in Mexico to the dapper and joyful characters of Jamaica’s Spanish Town. She jumped at the chance to zone in on one character. “In a world obsessed with conventional beauty and youth, there’s no better time to share the richness of life that comes with age,” says Stefy. “Uncle Keith is a celebration of uniqueness that challenges stereotypes in not just age but ability.” Dagmar holds a similar belief. While working as creative director and stylist with her uncle for the project, she often wondered what Keith’s life as a fashion creative would have been without the barriers placed on people with disabilities: “That’s why we started this – to embrace and champion the creativity of differently abled individuals; it’s about shifting the narrative from limitations to possibilities.”
“For me, being Welsh is very different to having an English or British cultural identity,” Dagmar tells us. So, when approaching the styling along with her uncle, she decided to lean into the pride and distinctive nature of their Celtic identity – from language to tradition. She describes Keith’s archive as a “stylist’s dream,” collected across his lifetime from charity and high street shops. The project was also a way for Dagmar to get closer to her family history and lineage. “Keith always told me stories about my grandparents – whom I never met – like how his mum would match colours and accessories while going to the Chapel and his father dressed smartly to go to the pub after working at the mines all day,” says Dagmar.
Throughout the series, Stefy accentuates Keith’s style and connection to the Welsh town, in her attention to colours, no matter how subtle, found in the landscapes and interiors. Keith doesn’t just sit at a pub table with a beer in hand; his Welsh flag waistcoat is complemented by the greens of the pool table, the red curtains and even the white light beaming through the windows. Elsewhere, his camel jacket is coupled with the rusty grass and white shirt with a windmill and overcast sky. Stefy says that this process was rather natural, due to Keith’s enthusiasm and Dagmar giving her a lot of freedom. “My aim was to allow the images to organically unfold, without focusing on Keith’s disability but personality,” Stefy tells us. “The passion and joy he finds in expressing himself through clothes and showcasing his garments is what created a genuine atmosphere.”
Looking at the range throughout Uncle Keith, it becomes clear that the collaborative approach has done wonders in expressing Keith’s style and abilities as a fashion creative. For Stefy, it’s reflected in Keith and Dagmar’s “deep familial connection, which brought intimacy to the project,” and for Dagmar it’s in Stefy’s approach that doesn’t seek to garner sympathy from the audience or showcase her uncle as a person with a disability only. And its impact on all of us is perhaps best articulated in what she says next: “Appearance-based stereotyping has an impact on all of our lives, it impacts how others judge and treat you. Using Keith as a fashion model provides an alternative to beauty norms and diversity in appearance.”
GalleryDagmar Bennett and Stefy Pocket: Uncle Keith (Copyright © Stefy Pocket, 2023)
Dagmar Bennett and Stefy Pocket: Uncle Keith (Copyright © Stefy Pocket, 2023)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.