The Gift of Storytelling

As a professional photographer, I feel lucky to have the unique opportunity to use photography and photo books as a storytelling medium. In my case, I’ve used books as a way to connect with my Autistic son and give a voice to other children and young adults with a variety of disabilities and special needs including autism, retardation and other physical and mental challenges.

Most recently, I’ve collaborated with the Camphill Special Schools in Phoenixville, PA. The Camphill School is a worldwide organization that takes the principles and philosophies of the Waldorf program and incorporates those practices into a residential school for children and young adults with a variety of disabilities. The goal of my work here is to create a photo book with the school that tells the school and the children’s stories.

To capture life at Camphill, I visit throughout the year, to photograph, edit and create the book with the school. This book will consist of 50 portraits and 50 stories for 50 years that Camphill has been in existence. Then, I will have to choose 50 images from the thousands I have taken to create a traveling photography exhibition from my days spent immersed in this program.

I arrived for my first visit in December of 2011 and was blown away by the amount of love and commitment the staff gives to the students in the program. The students on both campuses learn basic school curriculum as well as life skills and trades like farming, knitting, wood working, culinary skills, weaving and a host of other trades that will help them throughout life. Even though many of the students live on the campus, there is no “lock down.” The school is their HOME!

Since my first visit (I’m currently writing this in the middle of my 2nd visit), the school and community have developed a trust which now allows me to roam free without getting permission to enter a room.  But, I still tread lightly and use my instincts before entering a classroom, a therapy session or even simply clicking the shutter.

I feel honored to have the opportunity to tell the Camphill School story. Cameras and photographs have been an important part telling my family story. As a result, I’ve learned while trying to show others that just because a child is not smiling doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good portrait, every portrait is part of someone’s story. It’s about healing for me too.

Kristin is hoping that with the help of Kickstarter donations that she will be able to continue to fund this project.

Kristin’s Tips for Pursuing a Personal Project:

  1. Money can’t be the focus of a personal project. Don’t just do the project for yourself, have a bigger reason.
  2. Photographers get addicted to the gear factor. If you can’t do great work with what you have…then what? A good friend of Kristin’s once gave her the advice, “10% gear, 90% eye and just be there.”
  3. You have to take risks whether they are financial, creative or personal. Take risks and embrace them. Many happy mistakes result from taking risks and you often benefit your business and personal life.
  4. Challenge yourself; in ways you can’t on a paid job. Some days I only restrict myself to one lens for the entire day and I force myself to get creative.

To read more about photographers making personal projects a reality, read more about Emilie Sommer’s Pink Initiative from our February edition.


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