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Taking Photographs

July 25, 2009


I love photographs and I really like how photographs by folks with disabilities can give us a different sense of the world.   I am always interested in the photos my kids take after we’ve been somewhere and they see things that I didn’t notice.    We went to an antique car show a while ago and Gary and I came back with lots of photos of antique cars but Zev took a great photo of a guy carrying a box – his hands holding it tight; a woman’s shoes; the reflection in a shop window; the polished rim of a car wheel.   

In a program for young adults transitioning from high school to adulthood, one of the team members got them all taking photos and making them into cards – they were amazing windows into a world we walk past but, often, see quite differently.  

In the Personal Supports Network project we gave folks disposable cameras – partly because we got worried about having enough information to turn into a report and also we wanted to break up the text.    The results were astonishing because it gave people permission in a different way.    They’d go to someone they’d known for years in one role (a hairdresser, a waitress, a bank teller) and they’d ask if they could take their picture or have a picture taken of them both.   Some folks wanted pictures for their mantles, others wanted to include photos in address books they were making, some people were making albums of friends’ pictures.  

Again and again the person they approached would say “Why do you want *my* picture?” and then we’d help folks explain that they were important people in the person’s life.   “He comes here on Saturday because he wants to see you!”  “She doesn’t actually like getting her hair cut – she likes you.”  “He put you on a list of people he cares about.”   And the person we’d have approached would say things like, “I don’t know how many Saturdays I’ve wanted to take the day off but I don’t want to miss him – I always open my counter as soon as I see him at 11:05.”  “I had no idea you thought I was your friend; I’ve always liked you but haven’t known how to say that – how great!   You should come and meet my family!”    People ended up going out for coffee, having the waitress over for dinner as a friend, coming to birthday parties, getting talked into radical new haircuts (“Well, if you trust me that much… what do you think of purple bangs?”).    And we got some GREAT photos for our book! 

Those photos led to people getting email addresses and online photo albums so they could send them to far away family members, who recipricoted with photos of their own, which led to more conversations, more invitations… 

So the photo is one thing, but the entry into a conversation is a larger thing – an opportunity.   With digital photos things are even easier.   We met a young woman who had a severe developmental delay and was also blind; her staff helped her take photos of her friends and of things that she did with them.   When she met the next friend, she’d scroll through the camera memory and “show” them the photos of where she’d been and who she’d seen and conversations would happen that wouldn’t otherwise have happened…   not sure how much she understood about the camera or what was on it, but she obviously understood the hugs and tone of voice: she knew she was loved.   And the friends she’d visited knew they were part of those memories that were being shared as she moved through her life.

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”   Anais Nin

This waitress was thrilled - "I pour a thousand cups of coffee each week and no one's ever taken a picture of it before!"  It led to free pie.

This waitress was thrilled - "I pour a thousand cups of coffee each week and no one's ever taken a picture of it before!" It led to free pie.

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