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Navigating the spectrum: a personal photographic journey into late-diagnosed autism

Today, in the context of the photoSCHWEIZ exhibition, I want to share with you this deeply personal project that intertwines my love for photography with my experience of living with autism, only diagnosed later in life.

Embracing autism through photographs

"Unmasking the Spectrum" is a collection of six photographs that offer glimpses into my world. A world that has recently been turned upside down, each belief about I had about myself now put in a new light. The series is not about perfect photography techniques, it is showing my imperfect story in an imperfect way. Each image is more than just a picture; it's a story, a revelation, a part of my journey. Let's explore each one, shall we?

The Masking Smile

This first photograph depicts the challenge of keeping up appearances while grappling with an internal turmoil that is often invisible to the outside world. The smile you see, the eye contact made, these are not always invitations into my world but shields I use to navigate societal norms. They are the masks I wear to keep you comfortable. But beneath it all lies a complexity of emotions and struggles.

The Vulnerability of Authenticity

The second photograph emphasizes the raw honesty that comes with revealing one's true self. It signifies a leap of faith into the unknown, with no certainty of how my openness will be interpreted by others.

Yet, it also captures the beauty of vulnerability and the strength that comes with fully embracing one's authentic self. And it is a reminder that true connection and growth can only happen when we are willing to be vulnerable.

Unmasked Focus

This third image challenges conventional understandings of engagement. While I may appear detached or aloof, the reality is far from it. I am intensely concentrated, fully immersed in your words, giving you my undivided attention. This is my way of engaging, my way of listening.

But this form of engagement is so often misunderstood by neurotypicals, as it does not conform to their traditional perception of someone who is actively participating. I may not make eye contact, nod in acknowledgment, or mirror your expressive gestures, but that does not equate to indifference or disinterest. In my world, engagement takes a different form. Just because it's different, doesn't make it less meaningful or genuine.

Overwhelm to Oasis: Retreat and Recharge

This photograph encapsulates those moments when the world becomes too much, and I need to retreat. It's not a rejection, but a necessary break.

Living in a neurotypical world can be overwhelming and exhausting for us neurodivergents. Our brains process information differently, making it difficult to keep up with the demands of everyday life. That's why taking breaks and recharging is essential for our well-being. So this image is a gentle reminder that it's okay to step back and recharge, to return when ready, refreshed and renewed.

Camouflaging in the Neurotypical World

The fifth photograph visually represents the act of blending into a neurotypical environment. It's an attempt to go unnoticed, to fit in, and to navigate the world seamlessly. This is known as camouflaging, and it's a common coping mechanism for those with neurodiverse conditions.

Camouflaging takes different forms, from mimicking social behaviors to suppressing true thoughts and feelings. It may seem harmless, but it can harm our mental health. Constantly trying to fit into an uncomprehending world can be exhausting and damaging to self-esteem.

Fragmented Unmasking

Finally, the sixth and last photograph symbolizes the conscious efforts I take to unmask and be my true self, mostly in safe and accepting environments. It's a process, a journey of self-discovery and acceptance that happens gradually, one step at a time. It's a constant balancing act between staying true to myself and fitting in with society's expectations.

This collection, "Unmasking the Spectrum", is more than just a series of photographs for me. It's a personal narrative of my journey living with late-diagnosed autism. With these images, I hope to evoke empathy, understanding, and acceptance for all those navigating similar paths. I also hope to offer some support for those who are on the same journey.

When I first discovered my autism, it was both a relief and a challenge. On one hand, it explained so much about myself that I had spent my entire life trying to figure out. On the other hand, it brought on new challenges as I struggled to make sense of this new identity and navigate a world that wasn't always understanding or accommodating.

But through photography, I found some solace and an ability to express these feelings. It allowed me to capture my inner turmoil and struggles in a tangible form, and I try to envision this using my unique perspective on the world around me.

As a lifestyle boudoir photographer, I strive to capture the essence of individuals, empower them on their path towards self-acceptance, and celebrate the unique beauty within each one. And that is what I did for myself with this series: each image is a testament to authenticity, a celebration of individuality.

And so I invite you to pause, reflect, and appreciate the intricacies that surround us. To reflect on how you interaction with others from here on out, because they just might be working hard to make you comfortable as well.


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