In the four years since Nolan Ryan Trowe acquired a spinal cord injury while cliff diving, he has established himself as an award-winning photographer with a knack for documenting the intimate, often overlooked moments of daily life. His stark black and white imagery often focuses on disability and has been featured in The New York Times and various other outlets. Last Fall, he was awarded first prize in Getty Images’ first-ever Disability-Focused Creative Bursary.

Trowe shot the photos in this spread over a two-year period when he lived in New York City to attend graduate school at New York University. All the photos depict his life with his friends.

“My original name for the Getty project when I proposed it was Adopted Family, because that’s how I felt about everyone up in New York. I moved there and it was just like being adopted by this family. I felt so accepted and loved,” he says. “I’m not trained as a photographer, so I just followed my friends around and showed their daily lives in New York City.”

Some of the photos have been published in the Times, others were part of the Getty Bursary, and others have not been presented until now. Trowe shot the photos while using both his crutches and wheelchair. He hopes they will shed light on what real life is like as a person with a disability.

“There’s such a lack of real imagery of people with disabilities regardless of what their race or economic status or country they’re from or whatever it may be,” he says. “I think people are just like, ‘Oh, it’s cool to see that perspective of people with disabilities.’”

Nolan’s Story

Nolan Ryan Trowe

I moved to New York in 2017 to attend grad school, almost exactly a year after my accident. When I moved, I didn’t really have friends in the disabled community or friends at all for that matter. Alex (pictured) was the first real friend I made. He was the root of how I met people and got connected to the disabled community. Alex was a bike delivery messenger in the city and he got hit by a car. It’s kind of hard to tell in the photo, but on the tattoo there’s actually a bike helmet on the wheelchair.

Alex invited me to check out a podcast recording up in Harlem. The podcast is called The Juggernaut Show and is for people with disabilities, by people with disabilities. Everyone there used a wheelchair, so the room was super congested, but it was cool. It was literally where I met almost all of my friends. Every Sunday people would travel from all over the city and converge in this tiny apartment in Harlem. I became so close with everyone and looked forward to every Sunday. We would just chill. We had drinks going around, someone would be cooking dinner — it was a family atmosphere, and being new to New York and disability, I really needed that. I think we all did actually. Those are some of the fondest memories I have of New York in my two and a half years. I feel a lot of nostalgia with that picture. People will be like, “Oh, that’s so cool like all of you guys get together and hang out.” And I’m like, “Yeah, no shit people with disabilities like to hang out in groups, just like every other group of people.”

Adhiambo Mitchell

Adhiambo is the guy who started The Juggernaut Show. He lost both his legs in a car accident. When I met him, he was going to school for biomechanical engineering so he could design an affordable pair of prosthetics that didn’t suck. I thought that was really cool. We started hanging out and became really close. He’s like my brother.

Adhiambo pushing himself up a flight of stairs.

Adhiambo pushing himself up a flight of stairs.

I was sleeping over and Adhiambo and his son Ali would wake up early in the morning. In the one photo, Ali had just hit his chin on something, so Adhiambo was cleaning the cut and patching it up.

I was sleeping over and Adhiambo and his son Ali would wake up early in the morning. In the one photo, Ali had just hit his chin on something, so Adhiambo was cleaning the cut and patching it up.

Azalia Mallory-Bing

Azalia Mallory-Bing

Azalia suggested we should make a documentary about her life because she had a lot she wanted to say about being a Black disabled woman and being a mother. She faced a lot of adversity through her pregnancy. People told her she was unfit to be a mother and that she shouldn’t be a mother. Strangers would come up to her in the street and like try to lecture her on what she should be doing with her body because of her disability. The photos gave her a platform to talk about these issues. The little girl helping her off the ground into her chair is her daughter, Tia.

Azalia Mallory-Bing

Donahue Fields

Donahue runs an adaptive boxing clinic at a training facility in Ozone Park. He is a bilateral amputee. He lost his legs due to being hit by stray bullets, and he also has a spinal cord injury. The woman he’s helping has spina bifida, and she doesn’t have much feeling or mobility in her hands. Donahue has to help a lot of the people in the program put their gloves on because they can’t do it by themselves.

Donahue showing one of his friend’s sons some boxing technique.

Donahue showing one of his friend’s sons some boxing technique.

A group of us went to visit our friend Eddie’s grandma in her nursing home. Everyone other than Don and I had already gone up, and we were just chilling there when I noticed this American flag. I thought, man, if that's not a metaphor for what people with disabilities have to go through in this country, I don’t know what is.

A group of us went to visit our friend Eddie’s grandma in her nursing home. Everyone other than Don and I had already gone up, and we were just chilling there when I noticed this American flag. I thought, man, if that’s not a metaphor for what people with disabilities have to go through in this country, I don’t know what is.