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Photographs by Dirk Anschütz, Co-Presented with Upstream Arts, Inc.
Closing Night Reception: 7PM Monday, April 18, 2011
Sometime late 2009 my girlfriend’s sister Julie Guidry called me up and asked me if I was interested in applying for a grant to shoot an image library for her nonprofit organization, Upstream Arts, whose mission is to “enhance the lives of adults and youth with disabilities by fostering creative communication and social independence through the power of arts education.”
Well, we didn’t get the grant, but filing the application started a thought process about how to portray people with cognitive and developmental disabilities. Most of the images we found out there were of sporty triumphs or happy-happy family moments, but almost nothing showed the complex human beings behind the disability. There was a need for straight-on portraiture. The more we talked about the project, the more interested I became, and eventually we decided to go ahead with the shoot. Grant money be damned.
So in the summer of 2010 the Misses and I drove up to the beautiful state of Minnesota with a Volvo full of gear. The entire shoot happened in one afternoon at the Jewish Community Center in St. Paul. There was a constant hustle-bustle. Quite a bit of the communication was non-verbal, many creative decisions were based on gut feelings and intuition. Most of the young participants managed only about ten minutes in front of the camera before they were exhausted, and yet there was a great energy on the set.
Every good portrait is a collaboration between the photographer and the model. It takes a bit of courage to really look hard at somebody but it takes quite a bit more courage to show yourself when somebody is staring at you through a lens. Looking now at the finished images I feel fortunate about the openness and sense of generosity with which these young people approached the shoot. —Dirk Anschütz
ABOUT UPSTREAM ARTS | www.upstreamarts.org
Upstream Arts is a Minneapolis based organization whose mission is to “enhance the lives of adults and youth with disabilities by fostering creative communication and social independence through the power of arts education.” The classes are taught by working artists including painters, sculptors, actors and dancers, who help their young clients explore different ways of expressing themselves. A pretty big deal for the participants, as it turns out.