Academic Technology - Florida State College at Jacksonville

Academic Technology

Faces of Autism

Student Content, Studio, EdTechBrandi Bleak

This spring, the Academic Technology team collaborated with FSCJ's Author Series committee on a gallery exhibit called Faces of Autism.  Combining portraits of young people on the autism spectrum with a video telling their stories, The final portraits were exhibited in the South Campus Art Gallery during a lecture given by Dr. Temple Grandin, the author of their selected book, Thinking in Pictures. Participants on the Autism Spectrum were invited to have their portrait taken at the FSCJ Deerwood Campus in the TV Studio. Here's my artist statement for the project:

What can a portrait convey?

Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to make a snap judgment about someone based on their features, characteristics, or even an associated label. When I take someone’s portrait I hope to provide a glimpse into who the individual is at the moment the image is taken. The viewer then has the opportunity to create their own interpretation.

The Faces of Autism project invites its audience to view the faces of young people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and see them as they are, without predefined ideas of what it means to be autistic. With this project, there is a focus on the unique attributes of each individual.

The exhibit has an added dimension of including behind the scenes footage of the photo shoots. During this time I work to create a connection with my subject, which is the most important thing to me, necessary to create a good portrait, and what separates portraiture from other types of photography. 

We hope those who attend this exhibit leave with a sense that we are all more alike than different and that anything is possible with strength, support, and perseverance.  One thing I know for sure is the differences in how an ASD person's brain works may make them more, not less, qualified to understand, accomplish otherwise unsolvable tasks, and perform in extremely creative ways. 

While the portraits were being taken, the TV Studio team recorded the conversation and interaction that occur behind the scenes of a photo shoot. The questions asked and answers provide an added dimension to the project. Here's the video that was produced:

This follows a similar project that I participated in with TEDxFSCJ, which I photographed people who are engaged in our local community. The Faces of Engagement portraits can be seen here.