22 May 2012

Letter from Akeem (Rehabilitation through Photography Class)

akeem has a beautiful caribbean accent and million-watt smile, made even more brilliant by his two rows of braces. i haven't spoken much about the young adults i've been working with at 'rehabilitation through photography' because i kind of want to keep their brilliance, observations, and way of being to myself. these young adults are all on the autism scale, autists, if you will, but if when you say that, you hear "arrrtists" in a snooty english accent, then that's more like it. auuuutists. it ranges. life is turned on its side. smiles don't mean happy, necessarily, in this world. sayings hold no value, eye contact is often vapid. rules may not apply, anger is just the delivery method. answers are guesses, never answers. questions are sincere, and vanity, self-consciousness, and fear are all traits we buffoons have created and decided to live with. last tuesday, before i hit my head on the microphone in front of several hundred wealthy new yorkers, akeem and joseph read their surprisingly calm and collected speeches aloud in their distinct speaking voices. they were, of course, confident about speaking in front of a room full of strangers. during my 'speech,' i proclaimed our final edit an avant garde success! and if anyone would like to discuss our choices, to please find us after the meal. royce's work represented a mechanical but colorful and loose shooter. we made a diptych of an out-of-focus pile of pickles next to a scale at katz's, along with a bunch of lights that were for some reason always in the shape of circles. royce has a handsome smile, and he knows the word, too, because when you tell him he's a handsome boy you can see the fireworks inside of him go off. gabe, a young man who does as his parents do, was very proud of his work. it's a shame that i haven't seen him since january, but i was glad he showed. his most telling piece is the full moon from november 13th, 2011, as seen from the highline - a huge yellow ball taking up about 5% of the black frame, next to a cotton-ball-cloud, shaped just like popcorn, up close against clear digi blue skies. he let me take a photo of him in front of his work, then went back to his iPad. gabe is the type of boy who benefits from a few trusted women in his life. i got that the night there were too many cooks in the kitchen, and he, overwhelmed, told the executive director of the program, a kind, white-haired gentleman, to "fuck off," followed by disdain and declared to the rest of the room, "do you hear how he's talking to me?!"- and then i thought, what boy in my classes growing up wouldn't have LOVED to have had the balls to say that to a principal! any of our principals! our fucking 8th grade history teacher, whatever!@ this boy has those balls, but he doesn't know it.
the whole night was a surprise. i was so happy walking home. and on the train i was still happy. they are always happy, though...and when i realize this i am always left without words. it is a simpler way of interacting with the world, but it isn't, either. the next morning i recalled the night's events to my favorite m-train passenger; my voice was raspy. i didn't know if was too much information, but i went with it, because jesus, do you know how beautiful and how wealthy we really are????????

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