The latest stories, straight to your inbox

The latest stories, straight to your inbox

Be inspired every day with Living North

Subscribe today and get every issue delivered direct to your door
Subscribe Now
Be inspired every day with Living North

Meet the County Durham Photographer Shining a Spotlight on Down Syndrome, Organ Donations and Hair Loss

County Durham Photographer Shining a Spotlight on Down Syndrome, Organ Donations and Hair Loss Debbie Todd Photographed by Josh Pine
June 2024
Reading time 3 Minutes

County Durham-based photographer Debbie Todd specialises in fine art portrait photography which explores how different lifestyles, thoughts and feelings provoke reactions

Living North discover some of her recent projects.

Debbie grew up in Stanley, County Durham and didn’t get the opportunity to start her creative career until she was 38. She’s spent the past five years studying at The Northern School of Art in Middlesbrough and has gained a master's degree in arts practice, which she says she never thought she could achieve. ‘I first picked up a camera when my son was born in 2007 as I didn't have the money to get him photographed professionally, and spent a while photographing families before losing interest,’ Debbie says. ‘But in 2018 I was looking for ways to keep myself busy and to improve my mental health so enrolled on a course at Newcastle College.’

Debbie has experimented and honed her practice over the past five years but has a passion for documentary photography. ’I love the aspects that come with constructing an image – the ideas development, styling, lighting,’ she explains. ‘Having control over all of the elements is something I do to create the image that I have in mind. I’m trying to create authentic portraits that document a situation that is constructed in a studio environment without the distractions, giving the sitter their own space not influenced by what’s around them.’

Debbie realised that through her love of portraits and meeting new people she wanted to create projects that were ‘socially engaged’. Ethics are important to her so her shoots often involve conversations and input from the model or parents to ensure correct representation. ‘The input then forms the basis of the image, so imagining how we can incorporate elements and what colours, background, props we might need to tell the story,’ she explains. ‘The image capture is usually the quickest bit, depending what it is as it’s so clearly defined by this point that I know exactly what I want. I do usually take images for the sitter too as a way of giving something back for their time.’

Lucy, age 2, Newcastle Lucy, age 2, Newcastle
William, age 3 from Ponteland William, age 3 from Ponteland
Maisie, age 8, from Wallsend Maisie, age 8, from Wallsend
‘The world needs more inclusion for marginalised communities, everyone should have a voice and be able to share their stories’

One of Debbie’s powerful projects, The Call, aimed to create awareness around organ failure in children and increase discussion about organ donation. She photographed children in need of life-saving operations – waiting for just one call to save their lives. ‘I created [this] to highlight children in the UK who are waiting for, or have had an organ transplant, many of whom are living in hospital for months or even years,’ she says. This project was supported by the Red Sky Foundation and launched in Sunderland in 2023.

Her project The Meaning of Being Different examines the physical, medical, neuro-diverse and lifestyle differences of people in the UK. It won two awards and will be displayed in an exhibition in 2026. Debbie also recently marked the launch of a year-long campaign titled Extra Ordinary aiming to showcase the unique qualities of children with Down Syndrome which will culminate in an exhibition in March next year. The title of this project reflects the fact that children with Down Syndrome (an extra chromosome) should be represented in the same way as all other children. ‘They have their own personalities and likes and dislikes and their own sense of self and style,’ she says. ‘They want to do everything other children do and to be accepted and represented fairly and my campaign aims to showcase the stories of some children with Down Syndrome to normalise it and promote inclusion.

‘It’s important to show people that are forgotten about or not considered, as if we never do this when will things change for them? The world needs more inclusion for marginalised communities, everyone should have a voice and be able to share their stories.’ 

Debbie continues to work hard on her personal projects as she builds her network and hopes to secure some funding to continue her photography. She’s currently excited about producing work for the The North East Emerging Artist Award shortlist at Seaton Delaval Hall and will spend her time working on The Meaning of Being Different and a project on people and animals with no hair. ‘In the background I am still slowly adding to my other campaigns alongside several other ideas bouncing around in my head, including a visit to a gypsy pilgrimage in France, a second visit to the Appleby travellers and a gurning competition later in the year, amongst other things!’ Whilst Debbie has been a finalist for various awards (including for the LCE Photographer of the year 2024 award) and has had work displayed in several exhibitions, including in Poland and Berlin, she says her biggest achievement is raising awareness for the people in her images.


Your favourite place to walk in the North East?
This is difficult! So many beauty places… usually the beach or an old graveyard.

An item you couldn’t live without?
I should probably say my camera here, a Sony A7 which I love (Sony please make me an ambassador!).

A photographer who inspires you?
Diane Arbus as I feel I can connect a little with her interest in understanding people.  

Your advice for budding photographers?
Do it for you. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing and don’t compare and put pressure on yourself. Photograph what really makes you excited no matter what other people think.

To find out more about Debbie’s work and the progress of her Extra Ordinary project follow her on Instagram at @debbietoddphotographer. She is currently seeking funding to support the development of Extra Ordinary and can be contacted via her Instagram page or at

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.

Please read our Cookie policy.