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.