Category Archives: Art

Jeremy “The Yeti” Crocker, Hardcore Autism Parent

Jeremy is a kindred spirit. I photographed this towering man, “The Yeti” (his words) because I deeply resonate with his hardcore passion about advocating for children (and adults) with special needs.  I asked him to write a little about his life and he took the soap box and ran with it.   Jeremy, thank you for sharing your personal story here and for using your voice to empower fathers facing similar challenges.  

 

 

Guest Blogger, Jeremy Crocker

My name is Jeremy Crocker and I am a stubborn, over protective, confrontational advocate and supporter of the special needs community.  Some people might consider me to be a bit too sensitive and quick to anger when it comes to individuals with special needs being mocked or mistreated in any way but I’m 100% proud and unapologetic about the choice I’ve made.  My journey began when my younger brother was born and diagnosed with down syndrome.  I was just a young child then so I didn’t know anything about what that meant or how he would be treated in the future.  I just knew he was my brother and that our family loved each other very much.  Of course, my naive outlook on life began eroding as soon as I started elementary school and witnessed how kids treated those who were different than what they considered to be “normal”.  I was just a chubby kid who was often outnumbered, so as you can imagine I got roughed up frequently when standing up for the children in the special education classes.  It was painful and humiliating to the point that I usually tried to hide what had happened to me but I don’t regret a single second of it.  My life continued down this path with all sorts of twists and turns but we don’t need to get into all of that.

Fast forward to the year 2007, when I became a father and I discovered an entire new definition for the word “love.”  All of my priorities were instantly rearranged and the focal point of my universe became a tiny little human named Caden, who could melt me with his big blue eyes.  After a year passed, we noticed he wasn’t passing certain developmental milestones and eventually we received a diagnosis of PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified) which is just a confusing way to let us know that our child had an autism spectrum disorder.  I remember this hollow feeling crept through me as my brain refused to process the information it had just received.  I became quiet and withdrawn to the point that the only person I wanted to interact with was my son, regardless of the many attempts my wife and parents made to break through to me.  Eventually, I knocked down the walls and rejoined my family in the land of the living after doing some spring cleaning in my skull.  It was at this time that my wife and I both focused on becoming well-informed advocates who could always fight for the best interest of our child no matter what obstacles were thrown in front of us.

As we took our first steps down the path to earning a black belt in autism parenting, it became quite clear that we had an advantage that others in our situation did not have.  We had an ace up our sleeve that could lay waste to anyone who would dare deprive our son of any resources and/or opportunities that might help him reach his full developmental potential.  We had a weapon so powerful that it could simultaneously teach my wife and I how to become the best possible advocates we could be and bake delicious homemade cookies at the same time!  The name of this wise teacher and defender of Caden was none other than GRANDMA!!!! (Please try to imagine some dramatically ominous music playing in the background.)  That’s right, my Mom had already racked up 25 years of awesomeness by being the best damn advocate she could possibly be for my brother.  Our training began immediately and we took everything in as quickly as we could.  After some time we started finding additional resources through local organizations, therapists, other parents, and a great new pediatrician who has been a huge part or our family’s evolution.  We still try to educate ourselves more and more as we go, but we’re careful to sort out the misinformation and glorified opinions that some people in the special needs community are trying to pass off as facts.  It can all get overwhelming at times, but when we step back and look at the progress our amazing little boy has made over the past four years things suddenly seem a little more manageable and our motivation levels tend to increase dramatically (we also go through a lot of coffee).

In closing, I want to make it clear that my crazy little family wouldn’t be where we are today without an amazing support system consisting of family, friends, teachers, therapists, doctors, fellow parents, etc.  We are beyond grateful to everyone who has helped our son along the way and look forward to meeting new additions to “Team Caden” as we continue to roll with the punches and celebrate every victory no matter how big or small.  My wife and I would also like to let everyone out there know that parents of kids with special needs are not something to fear or feel awkward around.  We may seem a little disheveled and sleep deprived at times but we enjoy having “grown up time” as much as any other parent.  Just because we have different stories and experiences than most parents doesn’t mean we can’t find some common ground to agree on.  All we’re looking for is some acceptance and inclusion for our children so they can have some of the same childhood experiences that so many kids take for granted every single day.  We are a loving bunch of folks to anyone who is decent and respectful to us and our children.  Of course, on the flip side, if anyone ever messes with a child who has special needs (especially MY child) then they’d better run like hell because we will tear them apart and then go out for ice cream when we’re done.  I dream of the day when the special needs community unites under one banner instead of splintering off into “the autism group” or “the down syndrome group”.  If we could all work together with minimal bickering and just stick to the basics of what we all want for our kids, we could accomplish more than any of us have achieved up to this point.  Maybe I’m just developing a brand new naive outlook on life, but I really like the way it looks in my imagination and it’s going to take more than some schoolyard bullies to make this one erode away.

 

 

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CJ Jilek

The other day I had the pleasure of making a portrait at Hardware Ranch in the Blacksmith Fork Canyon with the amazing ceramic artist, CJ Jilek. She’s recently back in the US after a year long stint in Perth, Australia where she did an artist residency at The Clay House.  She is starting a new position as the Assistant to the Director of the Ceramic Studio in the American Museum of Ceramic Arts in Pomona, CA.

We are lucky to have several pieces of her work in our personal collection. The images below are documentation photographs I made of her work four years ago.   Thank you CJ for the great afternoon in such a sublime location.

 

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Summer Solstice Memorial for Nancy Holt at the Sun Tunnels

Yesterday we ushered in the summer of 2014 with a long awaited trip to Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels.  We had been aware of Holt’s passing in February and heard through social media that there was to be a public informal memorial gathering hosted by her colleagues and friends to celebrate her life and accomplishments. With the anticipation of experiencing the sun set on the equinox, and a hope of meeting interesting people doing the same, we packed a lovely summer supper and hit the road.  We were not disappointed.

The Sun Tunnels, as described by the Center for Land Use Interpretation, “is an artwork by Nancy Holt, completed in 1976, consisting of four large concrete tubes, laid out in the desert in an open X configuration. The nine foot diameter, 18 foot-long tunnels are pierced by holes of varying size that correspond with the pattern of selected celestial constellations. There is a tunnel for Draco, Perseus, Columba and Capricorn. The tunnels line up with the rising and falling sun of the summer and winter solstices.”

We arrived in the late afternoon, allowing ourselves time to playfully inspect the tunnels. The wind blew dust in clouds across the open expanse, and through the tunnels.  It was a visceral full body experience that included intense sensory stimulation from the bright sun, high wind, and fine dust.  Even so, our children, Madeline and Caleb were mesmerized by the elliptical light projections, circle openings and the limited color palate of the work and the land. Initially, our voices seemed too loud, too interruptive to the mediative mood of the space but gradually, as the group increased in size, the growing hum of activity was sprinkled with laughter and levity.

When the sun was approaching the event horizon, Matthew Coolidge, Founder and Director of The Center for Land Use Interpretation; Hikmet Loe, Art Historian; Lucy Lippard, curator, critic, and activist and Bruria Finkel, artist and curator spoke briefly about their friendship with Nancy and her immense contribution to land art.  The deeply moving reflections gave personal, historical and social context to the evening, and reminded us of the importance of belonging to a thriving and supportive art community.

 

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Premier of Respecting Autism Radio Show

 

How cool that we got to do this!  Here’s the link to the inaugural Respecting Autism Radio Show on The Coffee Klatch, Blog Talk Radio.  A very special thank you to Dr. Gil Tippy and Marianne Russo.  Click the logo to hear the broadcast.

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The Respecting Autism Radio Show

We get to be the first guests on The Respecting Autism Radio Show with Dr. Gil Tippy.  Gil Tippy, PsyD, is the Clinical Director of the Rebecca School in Manhattan. As one of the founders of the school, he has been responsible for evaluating over 300 children, and has been central in creating both the academic and clinical programs. He creates the training for the entire staff, and consults on their interventions with the children in the school. He was directly supervised by Dr. Stanley Greenspan, creator of the Developmental, Individual difference, Relationship-based (DIR®) model and is one of our personal heroes.  His super power is bringing people into authentic relationships, and seeing the best in each individual he encounters.  If you have not read his book, Respecting Autism, please pick it up and at least read the introduction. Dr. Tippy lays out the argument for a developmental/relationship based approach to autism intervention and treatment.  The implications are profound. We are recording tomorrow night and it will air this Sunday, December 8th, at 9:00 pm  Eastern Time, on the Coffee Klatch Special Needs Radio Network.  Just in the nick of time, Dr. Tippy’s Facing Autism portrait is done!

 

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Foxboro Neighborhood, North Salt Lake, Another Generation of “Downwinders”

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In September we attended a rally organized by various local environmental groups protesting the Stericycle Medical Incinerary Plant’s irresponsible discharge of toxic fumes.  You can read about that and see the event photos here.  Last weekend we went back to the Foxboro neighborhood to photograph several families who own homes in the affected area. We hope to partner with the local organizations to bring additional attention to the concerns of this community.

 

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Summer 2013: NYC Trip

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At the end of July, I traveled to NYC to meet with several individuals and families I’d been wanting to photograph for quite some time. It was a monumental challenge to figure out how to get around the city with all of the necessary gear, but with a bit of help from friends familiar with New York, some creative packing, and a local photo assistant Sam Dole, I managed to get myself and the gear I needed to each location.  I stayed at Pod 39, a trendy, but closet sized hotel room at 145 E 39th St.  I tried authentic New York style pizza.  It was good, but Chicago pie will forever have my heart.  I am especially grateful to Eric Taubman and Geoffrey Berliner of the Center for Alternative Photography for their hospitality and use of the Center’s roof for shooting.

I met Dr. Gil Tippy first at the Rebecca School in Manhattan.  Dr. Tippy is the Director of the Rebecca School, a therapeutic day school promoting the education and development of children with neurodevelopmental disorders of relating and communicating.  Dr. Tippy recently co-authored a book with the late Dr. Stanley Greenspan titled, Respecting Autism, and is a passionate advocate for developmental, relationship based approaches to the intervention and treatment of autism.  The classic reluctant hero/martyr blend, Dr. Tippy challenges the notion that Applied Behavior Analysis is the right way to overcome core deficits in relating and communicating, and he provides leadership for the growing movement of educators, clinicians, and parents dedicated to engaging children with autism using their natural emotions and interests to build higher levels of social, emotional, and intellectual capacities.  I also had the opportunity to meet several amazing families whose children attend Rebecca School.  These portraits are still in post-production and when completed will be added to the Facing Autism project.

Later that day, I traveled north of Central Park to meet Anthony Di Salvo, The Founder and Executive Director of Sprout Inc. Sprout is a non-profit organization that provides innovative programs for adults with developmental disabilities.  The Sprout Film Festival, an annual film festival featuring work created by people with disabilities, reinforces accurate portrayals of people with developmental disabilities and exposed the general public to important issues facing this population.  Anthony Di Salvo is using film to breakdown stereotypes, and promote a greater acceptance of differences.  Check out Di Salvo’s film One Question.

The following day, Sam and I took the subway to Coney Island to visit Steven St. Bernard, a NYC transit bus driver responsible for catching a seven year old child with autism who had climbed out a window, teetered on the air conditioner before plunging 3 stories into his arms.  The story of his heroism was reported widely throughout the media, and though he caught that child at sacrifice to his own body, he has been known to shrug off attention with the retort, “a hero is a sandwich.”  After meeting with him, it became clear that this one decision made in a crucial moment was not the only thing that made him noteworthy.   He is also known for being a surrogate grandfather to many in his community and has been scrounging up parts to build bicycles for the neighborhood children for years.

Dashing back to Manhattan, we met with Alicia Hansen on the roof of the Center for Alternative Photography, which is, coincidentally right next door to Rebecca School. (small world, eh.) Alicia Hansen is the Founder and President of NYC SALT, a nonprofit photography program inspired by the photographer Zana Briski‘s documentary film, Born Into Brothels,  NYC SALT’s mission is to engage, inspire and empower New York City teenagers by providing them with professional visual communication skills.

The trip was a crazy whirlwind, but truly unforgettable.

 

 

 

 

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Paradise Ranch, Las Vegas

I just completed the post-production work on the most recent Martyrs, Saints and Superheroes portrait, Paul Rogers III QMHA, M.S. Paul provides Horse Assisted Therapy (HAT) to individuals with autism, disabilities or other mental health issues in a climate controlled arena called Paradise Ranch in North Las Vegas. Paul and his wife Stephanie are devoted to a working ranch that contributes to the heath and well-being of humans and animals. These folks are just extraordinary people.

Paul is a true horse whisperer with the ability to reach horse and child alike and Stephanie has a grounded administrative giftedness — an amazing partnership! Their beautiful free-spirited children, Aurora and Alex, worked and played right along side ours; like they had known each other forever. Paul was gracious enough to give our children a chance to experience riding a horse around the arena.  The magical way Paul related to Maddie and Caleb in that brief lesson revealed the blend of mastery and artistry he employs in his work and made the benefits of HAT obvious.  The developing facility contains a waiting room, gift shop, play space, quiet respite room for caregivers, a sensory room and a theater stage.  There is even a shoe exchange so that all clients have appropriate shoes for riding regardless of the ability to purchase them.  The potential is limitless and with hard work and passion, Paul and Stephanie are transforming these buildings (formerly a flooring warehouse) into a safe haven for the very important and therapeutic work being done there.  While it is not my intention to declare what historical figure is being referenced in each photograph, we left Paradise Ranch with a sense that we had spent time with St. Francis of Assisi.

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Utah Public Radio Interview on Access Utah

On May 31st, Utah Public Radio’s Access Utah show Science Questions aired a 30 minute interview with Christopher immediately following a segment with Temple Grandin. (26:58) It’s a really powerful interview.  Please listen here and share.

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Utah Visual Arts Fellowship Gives Evidence and Artifacts Wings

We are deeply grateful to the Utah Division of Arts & Museums and juror, Richard Roth, Professor of Painting and Printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University, for selecting Chris as one of the recipients of the 2013 Utah Visual Arts Fellowship.  This fellowship will give Evidence and Artifacts wings, extending the depth and breadth of the project beyond our wildest hopes.  We know it will open many doors of opportunity, and it will certainly help to heat up the conversation about environmental impact on human health and development in Utah.  We will continue to make and exhibit work that humanizes the explosively growing prevalence statistics of ASD, ADHD, asthma, allergies and other developmental disabilities. We will continue to emphatically ask the question, “Why is this happening and what should we do about it?”  We want the Utah autism community to know that we promise to be good stewards of this funding; that we will use it to advocate for desperately needed intervention and treatment for individuals and families affected by autism spectrum disorder, and to honor the everyday heroes who have participated in this project.  All of you are amazing and represent the tiny ripples of hope that we so often talk about.  This fellowship extends the reach of those ripples, past Utah’s borders and into the broader autism and disability community globally.  Thank you.

 

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