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Timothy Archibald talks Photography and Autism Awareness

Timothy Archibald is lending his talents as a photographer to help spread awareness about autism.
October 23, 2013

Timothy Archibald has received acclaim in the news for taking photos of his son Eli who has autism. The “ECHOLILIA Series” as Timothy calls it was started when his son was 5 and lasted untill he was 8. You can see more photos from his series here.

Can you tell us more on how the Echolilia Series started and what you hoped to gain from it?

Well, like most things, it just began as a reaction. My son was five, had just started Kindergarten, and suddenly every moment and every topic in the house revolved around Eli. The school wants to know why is he acting a certain way? The parents have questions about Eli…Eli this, Eli that….everyone was suddenly trying to address this unusual behavior or simply this bit of unusual something that inhabited Eli. My wife and I didn’t really know anything was up…we just knew he always was a challenge. But after our second son grew older and we started to see what a non autistic child was like…we started to get an idea that things were different with Eli. In an attempt to gain some control over this situation, I begain photographing him during times we were together and alone. 

Like most kids, you can’t really make Eli do something if he doesn’t want to. So he wasn’t very interested in being in the photo alone. But if he could collaborate, if he could suggest the pose, the idea the structure, then he was very much into it. That began our process.

How has the reaction been since you started taking photos of your son?

Oh, well it has been mixed reactions for sure, like any art involving children and family usually is. Certainly there are regular accusations of using my son as a “human guinea pig” or selling his story to the masses for a perceived profit. Artwork, family, children…just all of that leaves me open for critique for sure. But there was a message of sorts I wanted to get out there, to parents and kids, and I guess I have to pay the price for that as well. 

On a postive side, there does seem to be two groups of people who seem to strongly resonate with these images and their story. One, of course, is parents of high functioning kids on the Autistic Spectrum. Time and time again I get notes and photos from parents who really feel they see their kid in these photographs Eli and I made. They see the focus and the haze, the concentration and the dreamy, and seem to relate to the emotional struggle for the parent in the photos as well. 

What’s the main message you hope people take away when viewing this series?

This is your child. He is born of nature, like everything around us. He may not be “perfect”, but nature isn’t perfect. So let’s accept it, be up front about it, let him be proud of it, and here, let us define it ourselves. 

How is your son Elijah doing today?

Eli is now like any kid his age I think. The autism, I don’t know if I see it any more. When I don’t see him for a few days and then come back, I see it all vividly. But on the day to day, it seems like all of those Autistic traits are either invisible or simply just him.

We have challenges. He’s on a variety of medications that have done wonders really, and after 11 years we finally have found the doctors who speak the language from the inside. But every day has its set of challenges for sure. But I do think he and I did form some small tether at the time we made these photographs that seems to help us along.

Timothy’s next project again involves looking at family. The idea behind this new project is an attempt to acknowledge that when autism comes into your home, it effects everyone. He hopes to capture the perspective of various members of his family in these upcoming photos. To learn more about Timothy’s photography you can visit