A dif­fer­ent view through a cam­era Pho­tos give in­sight into autis­tic adults

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro -

Brian stud­ied a tree, his face un­mov­ing in con­cen­tra­tion.

He brought a small cam­era to his eye. One press of a but­ton, lush green leaves cap­tured. The cam­era re­turned to his side.

Un­like the other ama­teur pho­tog­ra­phers crowd­ing the Ti­dal Basin on Wed­nes­day, Brian had his back to the bil­lions of cherry blos­soms bloom­ing around him.

“I like bushes, plants, trees and flow­ers, you name it,” said Brian, 25. “There’s a lot of other stuff I like tak­ing pic­tures of.”

He walked on, shoul­ders hunched and hands clasped, his light eyes search­ing for his next sub­ject.

Brian was one of four men who made the trip to the Ti­dal Basin with the Infocus Project, an ini­tia­tive of the Mont­gomery County-based Com­mu­nity Ser­vices for Autis­tic Adults and Chil­dren.

The agency for more than 30 years has served chil­dren and adults liv­ing with autism. The Infocus Project is part of the agency’s sup­port­ive em­ploy­ment pro­gram and be­gan three years ago when sev­eral of the adults “expressed an in­ter­est in the arts,” com­mu­nity ser­vices Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Ian Pare­gol said.

And, just as im­por­tant, the pic­tures pro­duced through the project pro­vide in­sight into the peo­ple who took them.

“We can see through their eyes what they find in­ter­est­ing. Pho­tog­ra­phy is one of the only ve­hi­cles that can cap­ture that,” Mr. Pare­gol said. “What we’ve found is we learn as much from them as they learn from us.”

With the help of Craig Par­dini, a mas­ter pho­tog­ra­pher and di­rec­tor of fa­cil­i­ties for the ser­vice agency, the young adults be­gan their lessons sim­ply learn­ing how to hold and op­er­ate the cam­era, then mov­ing on to com­po­si­tion, fram­ing and ma­nip­u­lat­ing color.

“Just be­cause some­one is autis­tic doesn’t mean they don’t have in­ter­ests,” Mr. Pare­gol said.

Though an over­cast sky Wed­nes­day wasn’t ideal, Mr. Par­dini said it was an op­por­tu­nity for a Pho­to­shop les­son.

“I fig­ured it’s a teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence: How to make the sky . . . a lit­tle more blue,” he said with a laugh.

Judg­ing by the proud smiles and en­thu­si­as­tic shut­ter snaps is­su­ing from the group of men, the less-than-per­fect weather didn’t de­tract from the ex­pe­ri­ence.

The men ranged in age, as well as in­ter­est and abil­ity.

Matt, 31, doesn’t speak, and Jim­mie, 36, speaks only a lit­tle. Both had big smiles on their faces, their eyes lit up and tak­ing in their sur­round­ings.

While Brian is a thought­ful, pa­tient man who en­joys land­scape shots, James, 35, spent much of his morn­ing ham­ming it up for passers-by.

“Thank you, mis­ter!” James called out to a man who in­ad­ver­tently walked through one of his shots.

He ut­tered a low “wow” as he craned his neck to watch a pretty woman walk by.

“James, he likes to talk,” said Agy­mang Nkrumah, a job coach with the agen­cy­who works with Brian and James and ac­com­pa­nied the men on their trip. “He makes you happy. Ev­ery­thing James sees he wants to take a picture.”

Mr. Nkrumah said that in the five years he has been work­ing at the agency, he has seen im­prove­ments with the men when they go to work.

James and Brian have part­time jobs at the Ol­ney Theatre and at a lo­cal re­cre­ation cen­ter.

“We try to get in­di­vid­u­als we serve into the com­mu­nity and show to the com­mu­nity that in­di­vid­u­als with autism are part of it,” Mr. Pare­gol said.

The Infocus Project is an­other way to do that.

When the men fin­ish edit­ing their work, they’ll post the pho­to­graphs to an on­line store for pur­chase. The pho­tog­ra­phers print, mount, frame and ship all the or­ders. A $5,000 do­na­tion given in 2010 by the Letaw Fam­ily Foun­da­tion helped cover the cost of edit­ing and print­ing equip­ment.

John Boit, a spokesman for the autism agency, said an ex­hibit fea­tur­ing the men’s work was held last year at a D.C. stu­dio.

A pho­to­graph taken by Matt was used by the high-end travel mag­a­zine CEO Trav­eler with an ar­ti­cle about the cherry blos­soms.

“They needed a pho­to­graph of cherry blos­soms,” Mr. Boit said. “He was cred­ited as a pho­tog­ra­pher. It had noth­ing to do with the fact he’s autis­tic.”

AN­DREW HARNIK/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Matt (above, left) and James walk around with their cam­eras near the Jef­fer­son Me­mo­rial as they and other autis­tic adults from Mont­gomery County join thou­sands of tourists en­joy­ing the warm weather and pink blos­soms. The blos­soms and the water caught the eye of fel­low Infocus project mem­ber Brian (top).

BRIAN/INFOCUS PROJECT

PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY AN­DREW HARNIK/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Brian and James (right) edit their pho­to­graphs of the Washington cherry blos­soms with the help of staff

mem­ber Craig Par­dini in the com­puter lab at the Com­mu­nity Ser­vices for Autis­tic Adults and Chil­dren in Mont­gomery Vil­lage last week. Staff mem­ber Rene Gon­za­les (be­low, right) helps Matt take pho­to­graphs

be­fore Matt, too, re­turned to the lab for edit­ing.

JAMES/INFOCUS

James looks for a dif­fer­ent view of the cherry blos­soms, whose petals are spread around him. The 35-year-old en­joyed his time at the Ti­dal Basin by ham­ming it up for passers-by.

BRIAN/INFOCUS PROJECT

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