Sometimes our best learning occurs in most unexpected ways. At this time of year as many go back to school, I am reminded of an artist’s journey that provided important lessons for me from the most unlikely teachers. Through portraiture, for her senior collegiate art project Kathryn Beck was working to celebrate the beauty in each individual placed by society in a giant category of “special needs.” As a photographer and a believer in the importance of her project, I volunteered to accompany Kathryn as she interviewed and took her photographs of potential Illumination subjects. What I discovered as we met wonderful and happy individuals who happen to have unique struggles, is that those of us not lumped into that “special” category have a lot to learn from these teachers.
It is terribly misguided to think that a 47-year-old with Down Syndrome belongs with a 20-year-old who considers himself cured of autism, or that a wheelchair bound 14-year-old is like a 15-year-old child living with the effects of multiple strokes who has trouble using his right arm and learning like others his age. In my life I have yet to meet anyone without challenges, so perhaps we all belong in that category of having “special needs”. For some of us that may mean an injury to overcome, for others having enough money pay the bills is a tremendous problem, while others have constant struggles resulting from a certain family member.
The Illumination portraits are larger-than-life, artistic renderings of unique individuals whose beauty is inside of them as well as those who love and nurture them. The Illumination subjects might have legs and arms that function awkwardly, or eyes that are situated differently than most such that looking at the artist’s camera may not have come easily. They are people who have challenges like us “normal” people in society; yet, their challenges are larger than most and they live each day as it comes with a strong willingness to keep going with a positive attitude. To learn more about my lessons from these special people and to see more photos, you can download my free e-book, or even get a paperback copy. Treat yourself to a visit of Kathryn Beck’s website to see her painted images that are breathtaking, awe-inspiring and triumphal.
Even if you are not donning a backpack and heading to school, make sure and pause to take in the lessons that surround you from those who may be very unlikely teachers.