Special Gifts

Shared Photo Experiences: A glimpse into their world

We have seven young adult children. Some I have birthed, others I did not. Some are adopted. Some we fostered. Some are mine, some are his … all seven are OURS. Often well-meaning people ask which are my "real’' kids. They are ALL real kids; figments of my imagination don’t eat nearly this much.  Some of our children are labeled with “Special Needs” but as far as I am concerned ALL of my kids are special, all have needs. Some needs are just more outwardly apparent than the others.   From this mom’s perspective, they have Special Gifts. 

Photography helps me to gain an understanding of their view of the world. Think back to the first time you saw the Rubin Vase. Did you first see a white vase? Or did you notice two faces silouetted in black? Both answers are correct, neither is incorrect. But for many Special Needs students, their perception is considered to be incorrect on regular basis. Who is to say which is right?  The world isn’t “black and white.”  Photography is a tool that I use to gain an understanding of my children’s unique interpretation of the world.

Each of my kids and I have photo adventures in which we head to various locations. Armed with only our cameras and water bottles we discover parts unknown; blazing hiking trails, sidewalks, beaches and even golf courses. I do my best Steve Irwin impression which usually elicits a laugh, though sometimes a roll of the eyes.  We each make photographs of our experience. Some of our resulting images are similar. But even though we have  shared experiences with identical locations, time frames and durations, our photos often present very different perspectives. I look forward to viewing their photos that contain details that I often never noticed.  
The photos from our adventures are presented in diptychs, with my images displayed alongside those of the children. Each of them chooses their favorite piece to be displayed. Their photographs have been edited to the least extent possible preserving their vision.
These photographs give me a glimpse into my children’s perspectives, allowing me to better understand each of them and ultimately enhancing our relationships.
Below are four examples.

 Native Pow Wow

This first set of photographs was made on a day spent at a Native American Pow Wow with an adult son. He has physical and cognitive disabilities and has very successfully maintained a long term position in a supermarket.  I approached and photographed dancers and other participants. The only portraits he took were of me photographing others.  He found more interest in architectural details. This particular photo of a covered structure in the adjacent desert area was his favorite capture of the day, as he found comfort in the lines and simplicity.

 Neighborhood Playground

These photos were taken with a son who had been in numerous foster and group homes before joining our family  in high school. He struggles with a myriad of learning disabilities, the effects of in utero substance exposure and PTSD.  The complexity and chaos of the photo he chose did not surprise me and offered insight
to the perceived barrier to "normalcy " he experiences daily . It is a stark contrast to my photo of an open tunnel leading to a clear, bright view.

  Saguaro Ranch Park

Our daughter chose to spend our outing at a local historical site that has lovely gardens. She struggles with physical limitations that required brain surgery and several cardiac procedures . She is quite emotional, sensitive and empathetic. She was immediately drawn to the smallest, most scrawny of the peacocks that reside in the gardens. She took particular delight in the angle of her photo, making the peacock appear flat, as if pressed in a huge book.

 Skunk Creek

Our teenaged son was excited to head to Skunk Creek following a storm.  He has a number of learning disabilities, spectrum disorders and psychiatric diagnoses resulting from polysubstance prenatal exposure. He is a Creative and was the only one of the kids who altered his environment to create the image he wanted to capture. Holding his camera in one hand he tossed stones into the water, aiming for the point where the bridge’s shadow meets light and reflection. The moment he captured his desired image he was ready to leave. I literally had only enough time to shoot four images, making in less than halfway down the embankment. I am almost covetous  of the image he created in less than a minute.