Thursday, February 18, 2010

Picture Day

Autism makes it difficult to get good family pictures. A photo session not only involves a disruption of his daily routine, going to a strange place filled with strange people, sights, and sounds, and bright flashes of light with a timing you can never exactly anticipate, it requires GL to do things that are difficult for him under any circumstances in this strange and chaotic environment: Make eye contact, "Look at me! Look at your brother! Look at Mom! Look at the camera!" (essentially a big, intimidating eye.) Make convincing socially acceptable facial expressions on command, and hold them for unnaturally long times.

GL does not naturally recognize facial expressions. We had to buy a computer program to train him to memorize their meanings and distinguishing features by rote. He has a limited repertoire of emotions, and an even more limited repertoire of facial expressions, anger, sadness, and confusion being the ones we see most often. If you ask him to smile, he usually has to put his hand on his mouth to feel whether he is smiling. He doesn't understand that the eyes can smile.

Even when he is cooperative and not angry, most shots end up with him looking away, squinting (avoiding eye contact), making an obviously forced smile, or staring vacantly. In a group photo, by the time we get a decent shot of him, our smiles look forced. A good photo of GL requires extra patience from the family and an understanding photographer who is willing to set aside his favorite techniques for those that work with GL, and still take longer to get a decent photo. A good family photo requires even more patience.

This is the second year we have used Portrait Innovations. Both times, we called ahead, explained GL's limitations, asked them to work with him, and scheduled our session for an off-peak time. There's a high turnover rate in this business, so you never know who you'll get, but for two years running, we've been happy with the results. This photo is a rare event: GL looks happy and relaxed, and is obviously there. He's looking at the camera, and his eyes are smiling.



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