Photo Project: Autism Stories

There’s something miraculous about things that we dream of, that exist entirely in our heads, and that at some point become tangible because we act on them.

In fact, we do this countless times everyday. I wake up and I think about brushing my teeth. Then I actually do it (although it may take a while if I happen to have a hangover). It’s a small gesture but it’s out of my head and out there in the world. It’s so common. And yet it’s miraculous.

For more than one year, I had this idea about a photo project focusing on people with autism. I wanted to show the invisible struggles and joys of living with autism. I wanted to honour those who struggle with the small or big challenges of being neurodivergent in a neurotypical world. With curiosity and empathy. Without the condescendence or over-dramatization that are so often part of how people look at those who are different.

My son chasing the rising sun. Bray-Dunes, France (2019).

But I did not do anything about it, except maybe turn it in my head and get some clarity about what I needed to do in order to make it happen. There were plenty of justifications for not doing anything. Work. Hobbies. Time.

And then I simply started doing something. I started talking about it to people that could put me in contact with possible participants. I wrote a project brief. I bought a domain name so I can build a site and host all the photos and the stories.

I was lucky enough to find people that were curious about my project and willing to help. They gave me a list of persons who might be interested. I started writing to them or calling them. Some of them didn’t answer but a surprisingly high number did. More people were added to the list in the following days and weeks.

As we start to do things in the world, the world responds to it and new things get set into motion. Word about the project gets around. People share photos. Some propose their help. Some simply suggest organisations, publications or exhibitions that I could use to advance the project.

At some point, the project is no longer strictly mine, if it ever was. It is a thing in the world with a life of its own.

Now I’ve met my first subjects and other visits are coming up. For each participant, there will be at least two visits but ideally three or four. The first visit focuses on their life stories, while the others focus on taking photographs both inside and outside their home. The result would be a combination of visual and written material that tells a story. A real story with no dramatization, no beautification, and no props.

What do the people with autism taking part in this project love to do? What are the places or situations they like to be in? What does living with autism mean in terms of daily tasks, parenting, autonomy, relationships, or work? What are the coping mechanisms they develop? What sort of interaction develops between them and their autistic and non-autistic peers? How do their families organize their life, build support systems for their children, and manage psychologically?

I know one thing I don’t want to do in this project: I don’t want to speak on behalf of the persons with autism and decide everything for them. I want to involve them in how the photos are taken and how the stories are told. It will be up to them how they want to do it. It may be writing or drawing on the photos. It may be them reacting to the printed photos. It may be, whenever possible, them talking about how they see themselves in this project.

In any case, it’s a thing in the world now. Out of my head. And I am in the middle of it, pushing it forward, and at the same time outside of it, watching it unfold.

7 thoughts on “Photo Project: Autism Stories

  1. Sounds great – and important for us to learn about. I have had several students with autism, and it works so very differently in each person. Where can we follow the project?

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