Creating Portraits of Autism

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 View Comments

Guest post by Christopher M. Gauthiér, who teaches fine art photography at Utah State University.

When you give politicians the number “1 in 88,” what they hear is the “one.” They don’t hear “millions of people are struggling with autism spectrum disorders every day.”

My wife, Jacqueline, and I want to help people move beyond just understanding the autism community as a statistic and show the faces that convey the reality of this community. Evidence and Artifacts: Facing Autism is a grass-roots photographic project documenting the growing number of individuals, families, teachers, therapists, advocates, doctors and researchers on the front lines – fighting back against disability.

I try to create portraits that compel the viewer’s engagement and demand a sensitive visual inquiry of each individual’s face. In the act of looking, the viewer may experience a sense of being “seen” by these children and adults in the midst of their delight and anguish; “seen” by the fierce and loving families in their grief and hope; “seen” by the teachers and therapists in their commitment to help; “seen” by the compassionate medical professionals in their search for ways to relieve human suffering; and “seen” by the members of scientific and academic research community who are steadfastly searching for the causes and treatments of autism.  

When I photograph people in the autism community, I spend 10 to 20 minutes just chatting, helping them become comfortable and developing the moment when we’re connecting – when they’re revealing some inner part of themselves to me.

It’s been interesting to discover that having the camera between us somehow eases our conversation, regardless of where the person is on the autism spectrum. I typically make several hundred frames of each person. Sometimes it’s a subtle glance that proves the most revealing.

Our daughter has an autism spectrum disorder. Our son has sensory processing issues. And I know I’m an undiagnosed Aspie. So our family is aware of the challenges that autism can present every day.

The Facing Autism project is both a way to honor those who are rising to this challenge and a call to action. Please visit my website, www.christophergauthier.com, to view more photos of these amazing people, and leave a message if you would like to learn more about the project. I am always looking for local organizations that are interested in partnering with me in expanding its reach. It’s great to be connecting with the Autism Speaks community.

Editor’s note: With his subjects’ permission, Christopher Gauthiér is generously allowing us to use several of his portraits of adults on the spectrum on our website – our shared goal being to raise awareness that autism affects persons of all ages. Thanks, Christopher!