A not uncommon response when I tell people I have an autistic child is: “Really? She doesn’t look autistic.” This sort of remark tends to infuriate the parents of children on the spectrum, but it’s sort of a fair point. It just illustrates how little most people know about autism.
The ‘popular’ view, courtesy of Hollywood and the media, is that people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are like Dustin Hoffman’s “Rainman” character – unable to socialise and communicate properly, incapable of eye contact, yet possessing some kind of memory superpower. There are people who match that profile, but every autistic person, like every other person in society, is different.
Another common misconception is that only boys can be autistic. In fact, more and more girls are now being diagnosed. Many have been missed in the past because of their ability to mimic social behaviours and mask their symptoms.
Take these two for example.
Do they look like they can’t communicate or socialise? This pair are the best of friends. They text and chat to each other on the phone regularly, and whenever they get together, well, you can see the sort of giddiness and hilarity that usually ensues. You wouldn’t think, from looking at these photographs, that both girls have been diagnosed with ASD in the last year.
One is my daughter, the other the daughter of a good friend. We feel very fortunate to have each other for support. Behind the smiles though are a whole host of social, communication and behavioural issues that many people do not see. Keeping those smiles in place is a delicate balancing act of careful planning, structure, routines and strategies that we, as mothers, are still learning and practising. Any small but unexpected change to a carefully constructed plan can result in a huge amount of upset to our girls, who find the world a confusing and overwhelming place.
Since launching Studio G I have worked with lots of children with autism and other additional needs. I always thought I just had a natural affinity with these children, but through my daughter’s diagnosis I realise it is because I have naturally developed strategies to deal with what, up until recently, I thought were just her quirks.
Now that I know, I have thrown myself into learning as much about the autism spectrum as I can, taking workshops and training courses that will help me, not only as a parent but in my job as a photographer. As a mother I know how much I treasure photographs of my children (and I have many), yet all too often I meet parents who have never had professional photographs of their children done because they think it is too difficult or awkward. In 2018 Robert and I want to change that view. I have never yet failed to get at least one beautiful portrait of any child who has been brought to me.
But more about how we do that in the next blog…
If you are interested in knowing more about our work with children with additional needs, or would like to book a shoot for your own child, please call Lisa on 07771 553535, or send us a message via the form on our Contact page.
It’s the beginning of a new year, and will soon be Studio G’s third birthday, so a good time for a little reflection.
One of the first things we did when we decided to set up our photography business was to think about what our values were, what sort of business we did – and didn’t – want to be. Fortunately, we were both on exactly the same lines, and the result was a statement of our values and ethos, which we put on our website. People have told us that they like this approach, and that it’s quite unusual for a small business to work in this way.
But time moves on, and whilst our fundamental principles haven’t changed, we’ve learnt with experience, and it’s time to re-state – and build on – that statement to reflect our developing thinking and priorities. And this time, we’d like to involve you, our clients and friends, in finalising this piece of work.
So here’s where our thinking stands at the moment – please let us know what you think, whether you agree, disagree or think we’ve missed something. We’re all ears!
Our Values and Ethos
- We believe in the power of photography to improve the lives of individuals, families and communities, by creating and sharing memories, and building self-belief and confidence.
- We will always treat everyone we work with, in any capacity, with respect and dignity, and we will expect the same in return. We will continue to develop and nurture the ‘Studio G family’.
- In our working practices, we recognise the conflicting demands placed on our clients, our colleagues and ourselves. We will always work as flexibly as possible to accommodate those demands, and will always put our own families first.
- We are a family friendly business, and this will be reflected in the work we are willing – and not willing – to do. We do not do work that involves nudity, although we will not judge those who do.
- We recognise that women in particular are often portrayed disrespectfully in photography, and our work will never show women in a less than positive way. Rather, we will strive to portray women as strong and independent and endeavour to use photography to help them feel good about themselves.
- We are supportive of local businesses, particularly SMEs. We will, whenever possible, choose to work with and encourage local businesses.
- We are firmly rooted in the community of Oldham, and we will give what support we can to local community groups and organisations.
- We will do our best to ensure that our pricing is fair and reasonable. We believe in quality over price, and will always produce the best quality we can at the best price we can offer.
- We will seek at all times to conduct ourselves and our business in a professional manner that reflects positively on our industry as well as ourselves.
I have been fortunate enough never to have experienced mental health issues at first hand. That’s not to say I never will, but not so far. So you might wonder what I’m doing writing this blog for the World Health Organisation’s World Mental Health Day 2017, the theme of which is mental health in the workplace.
Before I took early retirement and became a photographer I worked for some 30 years in Human Resources, where I saw – and I guess participated in – mental illness being managed with varying degrees of success. More recently, a number of people close to me, including my business partner Lisa, have spoken and written openly about their own mental health, and I like to think I have learnt something along the way about how to be a good friend and colleague.
You might know about the Open Shutters project that Lisa and I have been leading, asking people to have their portrait taken and say something – in writing or to camera – about how they have turned their mental health issues to their advantage, and to give one piece of advice to others in a similar situation. Without fail, that advice has involved the vital importance of finding someone to talk to and not keeping things bottled up. If you’d like to read more about the Open Shutters Project, click here.
So with that experience and, I hope, improved understanding, here are my tips if you have friends, family or work colleagues who are experiencing mental health problems, and you’ll almost certainly know someone in that situation, whether or not you’re aware of it.
- Listen! If the need to talk to someone is critically important for people with mental health issues, then it’s equally important to have someone to listen. Actually listen. Not half an ear while you’re checking on Facebook or posting a picture of your lunch on Instagram. There’s a useful guide to Active Listening here . It’s skill that will improve with practice, so give it a try. You’ll have better conversations, and people will know you care enough to give them your undivided attention.
- Be prepared for the conversation to take up some of your time, and give that time freely and ungrudgingly. If you’ve ever tried talking to someone who is constantly looking at their watch, you’ll know how uncomfortable that can make you feel.
- Go easy on the questions. Active listening may involve asking some questions to ensure you’re understanding what you’re hearing, but that’s not the same as bombarding your friend or colleague with demands for further details. Often people will have deeply personal issues that they don’t want to talk about. If they do choose to open up, that’s fine, but you don’t have a right to be told anything.
- People may cry: deal with it. If someone is upset, and cries when they’re talking to you, just let them, it’s OK. Don’t tell them not to cry, or not to get upset. The last thing they need is to think that they are behaving inappropriately, or upsetting or embarrassing you. Just offer them a tissue and carry on listening.
- Not every problem has a solution. When we’re told that someone has a problem, it’s our instinct (particularly men) to suggest a solution or to offer to fix things. Resist that temptation. Let the person talk things through: generally if your advice is required, it will be asked for.
- Big hugs hun! I’m a hugger, but not everyone welcomes being hugged, or having their hand held etc. If in doubt don’t, and if it’s not wanted, don’t take that as a personal sleight.
- It’s not about you! If your friend or colleague cancels on you at short notice, or wants to sit quietly in circumstances where you’d expect them to be chatty, that’s fine. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you any more, or are cross with you. They’re just coping the best they can. They know you’re there for them, and if you’ve done your job as a friend well, they’ll reach out to you when they’re ready.
- Don’t panic! My final piece of advice – given to me by a friend – is not to panic that because they are going through a difficult episode, they’re at risk of harming themselves or someone else. Remember that the person who knows most about someone’s mental health is the person themselves. They will have their own strategies for coping and will know when things are serious enough that they need a professional intervention.
World Mental Health Day is a good opportunity to reflect on how we can help those around us who need our care and support. Understanding that that can sometimes involve doing nothing more than giving them space can be difficult but may be the most important thing that they need just at that moment. I’d love to get your feedback on anything in this blog, whether it’s to agree, disagree or add something I’ve missed out.
Thank you for taking the time to read it.
Some of the other Open Shutters portraits:
In the space of one week recently we were contacted by two families who, quite separately, have been let down by a photographer at virtually no notice. They had both booked cake-smash photoshoots for their one year olds, and were both understandably very disappointed. They were given no reason.
We don’t normally do cake smash, but of course we offered to help them out in their hour of need – one booked us on the spot, the other, we assume, chose to go elsewhere, which is fine.
The family that booked us had organised their original shoot through a Groupon deal – at the ‘amazing’ price of £12. That’s not a price we would even attempt to match, but we could give an assurance that we certainly wouldn’t cancel at the last minute, neither would we subject them to a high-pressure sales session afterwards. The price they’re paying includes a load of web-sized images, and if they want to buy prints or other products that would be lovely, but it’s entirely up to them.
When you’re thinking about booking a photographer – whether it’s for a special birthday, a party, a wedding or anything else – of course price is an important consideration. But never forget – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
If you'd like to talk to us about capturing your precious moments, give us a call on 0161 300 6224, or fill in our contact form. We welcome anyone to come in and see us for a brew and a chat before you book.
In a week of such tragedy and grief, it’s hard to know what to write about. So much of what we do is about joy, fun and frivolity – parties, fairies, photobooths with silly hats, the excitement surrounding a new-born baby, the anticipation of a baby on the way. Somehow that doesn’t chime with the prevailing and perfectly understandable mood of anger, outrage, anxiety and sadness. At first sight, photography suddenly feels a bit of a luxury, a bit self-indulgent.
But that’s not the whole story. Not at all. As people photographers we are invited to capture key moments in people’s lives, from birth (and before) through childhood, school, university, graduation, marriage and parenthood. We see families grow, go their separate ways and occasionally reunite for a precious group portrait. Sometimes we even get asked to photograph people who are seriously ill, perhaps nearer the end of their life. Some photographers generously volunteer to take pictures of babies who have died before, during or shortly after birth.
At bad times, as well as good, people reach for photographs: photographs that stir memories, that show the beauty and personality of their loved ones. Who could remain unmoved by the images on social media pages this week as families desperately hoped for news and information. And at times of great sadness, photographs of happier times may bring some comfort to families in their grief.
Photographs also form part of social history, a permanent record to show generations to come their family origins, their daily lives, their jobs.
As photographers, we see people at moments of much happiness and deep sadness, on days filled with excitement, reminiscence, regret and absence. It is an immense privilege, and we never take it for granted.