The latest Art in Public Places exhibit “Through Their Eyes,” kicked off Thursday night with a reception at the Greater Starkville Development Partnership.
The exhibit features photography from 10 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder from the Starkville area.
The show results from a project funded by a Starkville Area Arts Council community grant and organized by Diana Outlaw and Jennifer Seltzer, two mothers who have a child with autism.
“Jennifer Seltzer and I both have autistic kids, and we started noticing, when we take them out and let them use our phones or cameras or whatever, when taking pictures of the same things in an area, they would take pictures differently than what we see,” Outlaw said.
Seltzer said she first noticed the difference in photos while on a family vacation in Texas.
“We were taking pictures like everyone takes pictures on a trip, of your family, of landscapes, typical things you take pictures of,” Seltzer said. “Rowan (Seltzer’s son) would borrow my phone and he would take pictures of things like room numbers in the hotel, and he would notice patterns in the carpet and things that reflect. That’s what he would take pictures of. He would very rarely take pictures of people, unless it was a reflection.”
Seltzer said she noticed the similarities in a picture on Facebook a few weeks later taken by Outlaw’s daughter Arya on Facebook with Rowan’s photos.
“We were curious, as we started to look at Arya’s pictures as well, we noticed they would be of parts of an object instead of the whole object itself, and the perspective is totally different,” Outlaw said. “A lot of
Arya’s pictures for example are straight up or straight down.”
Outlaw said she and Seltzer were curious to see if other autistic children in the area had a similar point-of-view as their children, so they applied for a Starkville Area Arts Council community grant, which was awarded almost two years ago.
Outlaw said the majority of the funding went to purchasing durable, waterproof Nikon cameras for the children.
“We started this project with about 10 families, where we had situations where there was a child with autism and his or her sibling didn’t,” Outlaw said. “We gave cameras to both siblings or to a parent, and we asked them to go out into the world and explore and take pictures of these areas simultaneously to see what the different points of view were and it turned out very similar to what we experiences with our own children.”
The photographs in the exhibit show the children with autism focusing on small details, while neurotypical parents and siblings focused on a bigger point-of-view.
Arya Outlaw said her favorite photographs was the one that showed the Paw Patrol logo and her pink shoes. She said she also liked her best friend Jacqueline Seltzer-Hill’s photo of herself.
One of Rowan Seltzer-Hill’s photos showed himself in the foggy reflection of his bathroom mirror after a hot shower.
Along with a photo of Arya Outlaw, Jaqueline Seltzer-Hill’s also included an image of a horse.
“All the children that have done this, feel like they’ve gotten something out of it and feel special in unique, which is really what we wanted, and for them to feel like their perspective is valued,” Seltzer said.
The photography exhibit will be on display in the lobby of the Partnership until April 9.
“This project provides an opportunity for children with ASD to share their perspective with the community, bringing awareness to a challenging and often misunderstood medical issue,” SAAC executive director John Bateman said. “Further, this project helps emphasize our belief that the arts are inclusive of all communities and walks of life.”
The exhibit was featured at the Mississippi State University Art Gallery over the summer. Recently the project received another grant from SAAC and the mothers are looking for additional funding for the next phase of the project.
“We basically would like to build the project up and continue on with the same families to see what the effect is as they change over time as they get older,” Outlaw said.