Geoff and I have started an experiment.
As you know, we take pictures. Well, Geoff takes pictures, and I plan them. Actually, less and less, I plan them, as Geoff becomes more instinctive about his photos and their composition.
Up until now, we have taken horror photos. But after an abysmal year, and nothing but discouragement, we have changed focus.
It began last year. We had brought Sebastian and Sawyer into the Zehrs portrait studio for their Christmas photo. Even though we ended up with nice pictures, it was an exhausting exercise. I was literally drenched with sweat by the time it was over. Sebastian didn't want to sit. Neither did Sawyer. They wouldn't look at the camera. When I was finally able to get them both looking and smiling, the photographer wouldn't be ready and couldn't get the photo, or simply wouldn't see the opportunity. Finally I said to Geoff- "You are a photographer. Why the fuck are we doing this?"
Yes, Sebastian has autism. He is very mild, compared to some. He is mostly able to go with the flow. But even still, the whole studio environment, and the stress of having paid for something, and not knowing whether I was going to end up with 1 good shot, let along the 3 I am supposed to get- I just couldn't do it again.
The past year has been trying and full of distractions, of course. Finally, in mid November, after months of talking to Geoff about it, and not really knowing whether he was into it or not, I started to put out feelers.
See, my idea was to specialize in taking photos of special needs kids. To offer a safe and secure place for people with the same anxieties that I have. To use my knowledge of what it is like to be a mom to a special need kid, to make the experience better for other moms. I thought there would be some interest in that.
So, I posted on the Autism Ontario Facebook page. If anyone was interested, we wanted to use them as guinea pigs, as we develop our potential business model. If they were willing, we were willing to do it on the cheap. I posted this, and waited.
And waited and waited and waited.
Finally, about 2 weeks later, after I had pretty much decided that it was a no-go for this Christmas, I got a hit. Then another, and another. Six in all.
Six families, with at least one autistic child. Some of them have never had a family portrait. Some haven't had pictures taken of their children for years.
I sent them the details of our plan. I sent them the price. Some of them didn't respond. I get it. That's cool.
But 3 of them did. :) We were in business.
We met the first family last weekend. Three kids, 2 on the spectrum. Never had a family portrait taken. We sat and talked and let the kids get used to us. Geoff started slow, clicking away, getting some great candid shots. The mom was so nervous about her basement. It was lovely, but smallish, and had areas that wasn't finished. My job was to work with her and the kids, to put them at ease and to make this fun for them. Something that normally was anxious and nervous, needed to be relaxed and good. I assured her we could work with the background, blur it out. As her children cried and fought, I worked with the other kids, having fun and laughing, until the others would come around. I asked their permission before we did anything. I touched them if they were ok with it. I looked them in the eye. I talked to them about what their favorite things were. Geoff took pictures of their toys and their funny faces. We worked around the tears and the tantrums. We never judged, and we smiled and reassured.
When we left, the kids hugged me. The oldest girl drew me pictures and wrote down all their names, so I wouldn't forget them. The boy (who is on the spectrum) hugged me, and asked to come home with us. His mom messaged me later and said he asked when his "other" parents were coming back to visit.
We did exactly what I wanted to do. We connected with a family, particularly with the children. We took some great pictures. And, I hope, we gave the family a great experience.
Today, we did it again. This time it was 6 kids. At least one on the spectrum. I went in with no idea about how we were going to rustle 6 kids together. No idea.
But mom rules that house, and everyone listens when she speaks. And the kids loved us, again. They love Geoff's camera and climb all over him to see the pictures. I talk about spaghetti-ohs and letters to Santa and Annie the musical. I tell the girls how pretty they are (because they are) and the boys how cool their hair is (because it is). Everything I say and do is 100% sincere. And again, my autism kids- I treat them with the utmost respect. I ask permission. I look them in the face. I hug them if it's ok, and if it's not, I touch their hands. We look at their videos and games. And eventually, eventually, I get them to smile. And Geoff is snapping, snapping, snapping the whole time. If we are lucky, he catches it. If we aren't, then we try again. And again.
Tomorrow, we have our 3rd shoot. After that, we are going to create a blog, and a Facebook page (I think). We are going to see if we can do this more often. We are going to see if this is something viable, sustainable.
The only downside so far, is the energy hangover I get afterwards. Being around all that chaotic, autistic energy drains me. I am used to Sebastian, our energies mesh 100%. But these new kids, they buzz and vibrate all around me. The air practically crackles with the new energy. They feed it into me, and I take it. I feed my energy back- calm, confident, positive. They seem to feel it, at least a little. We give and take, and when I leave, I bring that with me. And by the time I am home, my head aches and I need a nap. But I can live with that. Totally.
So, wish us luck. This new adventure should be fun.
Rosie N. Grey
The N stands for New adventure.