The other day, while sitting with my computer at the kitchen table, I happened to have a collection of abstract images on-screen. My son came bounding by, pausing only for a moment. He pointed to the above image and said, “That’s Utah!” and then continued on his way. Usually, comments about my photography from family members, however well intentioned, can be taken with a grain of salt. But in this case, his terse comment carried a lot of weight. Here’s why…
Capturing an Impression
Whenever I travel, in addition to making conventional photographs, I try to produce at least one image that conveys the impression of a particular place. Often this involves experimenting with long exposures and motion blur, sometimes called “intentional camera movement” or ICM. I’ve posted a series of these entitled Impressions of Place, and many more of this popular genre can be found with a simple online search.
To be sure, practicing this technique produces a fair number of blurry, unusable photos. But when timing and movement are just right, something magical happens — streaks align to form shapes and patterns, objects coalesce, and subjects assume a ghostly form. It’s as if a magnetic field is aligning elements to reveal something deeper within the image.
For me, these photographs are like memory imprints. They represent what I recall feeling about a place rather than what I actually saw. Don’t get me wrong, I love “normal” photos too. But every so often, I try to step away from the “conventional,” just to see what happens.
It takes an open mind to warm up to these photographs. They require viewer engagement to “complete” the image — to bring their own imagination to the experience. Some people appreciate them, some people don’t.
How does this relate to my son?
My son is Autistic. To be frank, this comes with very serious lifelong challenges. But it also comes with traits that most humans strive to achieve (often in vain): purity of heart, unwavering honesty, appreciation of peacefulness, and an ability to be in the moment.
Unlike other well meaning family members, my son is 100% unbiased toward me. He is a man of few, honest words. If he likes something, he tells me. If he doesn’t, he tells me that too. Or he might ignore it altogether. And while I may never fully understand his thought process, I do know that he “feels” his way through life, seeking-out familiarity, order, and calm in all situations.
My son is intuitively drawn to music and imagery; preferring complex jazz over pop (almost to a point of obsession), and he gazes at landscape photos (not mine, BTW). Much to my satisfaction, he sits and cycles through family photographs that I produce. He is — dare I say — an art aficionado with strong convictions about what he likes, and what he dislikes.
So when my son exclaimed, “That’s Utah!” it was a pure moment of subconscious photographic communication. He looked at an abstract impressionist photo and felt something. And he blurted it out. No agenda. No bias. No need for politeness. Just pure feeling. Pure awareness.
Communication can be a big challenge for people with Autism and their families. Like other parents of Autistic children, we try to compensate for expressive and receptive language issues. We slow our rate of speech and provide more time for him to process what we are saying. We practice patience while listening, trying not to rush him. In essence, we compensate by slowing down. Described this way, it’s as if slowing down is a compromise.
But perhaps I’m viewing it the wrong way. By him slowing me down, perhaps he is inviting me into his world of intuition. Perhaps I need to slow down. Perhaps slowing down will help me to see and listen with more awareness; an awareness that for my son is innate; an awareness that I haven’t yet achieved, even in my most zen moments.
The lesson for me applies to both life and photography. As much as my son needs me to slow down so that we can communicate with each other at a comfortable pace, I need to slow down before I can even hope to achieve his exquisitely honed ability to identify and appreciate the stuff that matters.