Autistic teens let their cameras do the talking

Autistic teens let their cameras do the talking

People with autism often have trouble communicating, but a new workshop in photography is helping them tell their stories

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From left: Mui Tsz-chung, Mak Tik-wah, Ellis Yip, Lau Tsz-tsun, Ducky Tse, Chan King-tai and Siu Yiu-wang.
From left: Mui Tsz-chung, Mak Tik-wah, Ellis Yip, Lau Tsz-tsun, Ducky Tse, Chan King-tai and Siu Yiu-wang.

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Several photos taken by the students: Lau Tsz-tsun shows us the details.
Several photos taken by the students: Lau Tsz-tsun shows us the details.
Photo: Lau Tsz-tsun

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Mak Tik-wah shows an interest in buses.
Mak Tik-wah shows an interest in buses.
Photo: Mak Tik-wah

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Ku Ka-chun used a crystal ball as a prop at Nam Sang Wai.
Ku Ka-chun used a crystal ball as a prop at Nam Sang Wai.
Photo: Ku Ka-chun

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Mui Tsz-chung's helicopters.
Mui Tsz-chung's helicopters.
Photo: Mui Tsz-chung

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Photo: Mui Tsz-chung

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Photo: Mui Tsz-chung

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Chan King-tai observes the wheel.
Chan King-tai observes the wheel.
Photo: Chan King-tai

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Photo: Chan King-tai

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Photo: Chan King-tai

Holding his camera, Mui Tsz-chung stood at the observation wheel in Central. But instead of pointing at the city's newest landmark, he aimed it at the sky, zooming in and capturing helicopters flying by.

Lau Tsz-tsun, walking alongside Tsz-chung, kept talking to the people around him about travelling, repeating the same phrases like "Where have you been to?" and telling them where he's been.

The boys, aged 13 and 16, are students at Hong Chi Winfred Mary Cheung Morninghope School. Both have autism.

They were on a photo tour around Central and Wan Chai as part of Allianz Global Investors' "Eye on the World" Photography Workshop & Exhibition.

Autistic peopletend to focus on the details that interest them, while paying little attention to the bigger pictures, Siu Yiu-wang, a teacher from the school, explains. Repetitive behaviour is also a core symptom of autism.

"Eye on the World" is a good opportunity for the students to express themselves while allowing other people to get a sneak peek into their world. "They communicate with the photographers, on photography techniques and how to capture the images. They also share with us what they have captured. It's a chance for them to share their thoughts," Siu says.

"They show their photos around, explaining what they have seen and found interesting. They get to express themselves more through the camera, and we can get to understand how they see things."

The programme started in December with a workshop hosted by Ellis Yip and Ducky Tse, who are both photographers and tutors. They introduced the students to some basics on how to use the camera, how to observe, and how to tell a story through photos.

The students started off by trying a few illusion photography tricks. A photo taken by 13-year-old Mak Tik-wah shows a fellow student balancing on his fingertips.

The tutors also provided plastic bear figurines to use as props. Students set up scenes by themselves to tell a story, such as one bear rescuing another or one fighting another.

"They like those games," says Tse. "They can just have fun, without putting too much thought into it."

Yip, agrees, adding: "We hope their passion for photography will grow along with their curiosity for cameras."

After the first session, the tutors took the students on a tour to Nam Sang Wai in Yuen Long. "Growing up in the concrete jungle, kids in Hong Kong don't have many chances to get closer to nature, but here there is so much natural light to play with," says Yip.

Central and Wan Chai were the next destination. "Sometimes the kids can feel intimidated walking on the streets alone, but being with a group of people who they trust, they might let down their defences a bit," says Tse.

The two-week experience certainly brought out the students' passion for photography. Tik-wah kept asking his teacher if they could take the cameras home, promising he would behave at school and at home.

When the answer was "yes", a delighted Chan King-tai, 16, said: "I'll try to snap photos every day, of everything!"

Tse enjoyed the experience as much as the students did, saying: "Their world is not wrong, but society should open more windows to let these kids have a look at this world."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Let their lenses do the talking

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