October 24, 2011

Photographs open connection between a father and his autistic son

Timothy Archibald's series of photographs of his autistic son Eli are featured in the upcoming exhibit, "Echolilia." Above is "Closed System," 2010. (Photographs by Timothy Archibald).

By Mary Catherine Johnson

When graduate student Brian McGrath Davis first saw Timothy Archibald's "Echolilia" pictures on the New York Times Lens blog last November, he was so captivated by them that he immediately began strategizing about how to bring the series and its creator to Emory.  

Looking further into the roots of "Echolilia," Davis, a PhD candidate in the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts and a burgeoning documentary photographer, was fascinated by the story of a father who found a way to connect with his autistic son, Eli, through the artistic process. 

Davis's efforts have resulted in the collection of photographs being on exhibit at the School of Medicine from Oct. 28 through Nov. 30.

Davis learned that the pictures are the result of an intense collaboration between Archibald and Eli, with each playing an equal role in their orchestration and ultimate depiction of Eli and as well as childhood itself, images that are dreamy, intimate images with mystery and fantasy. 

"This is a significant project that should be of interest to many avenues of the university community, from the artists to the scientists," says Davis.  "What Tim and Eli show us is not only the elusive mystery of childhood; not only the power of collaboration, exploration and risk; not only the effusive efficacy of images to move beyond the reach of words; but also the nobility of life on the autistic spectrum and the sheer, punctuated beauty of an artist at his finest."

Echolilia: A photographic exhibit of the spectrum of childhood and the documentation of a relationship between a father and his autistic son. Photographs by Timothy Archibald.

"Elijah in a Fairytale," 2008. The exhibit will also be featured as part of the Atlanta Celebrates Photography festival.

Despite a lack of funding and space available to exhibit the pictures, Davis reached out to Archibald, a celebrated San Francisco-based commercial photographer, through Facebook and began a conversation about bringing both his pictures and his son Eli to Atlanta. Once Archibald was on board, Davis got the project listed with Atlanta Celebrates Photography as one of the featured events for its city-wide festival this October.

He assembled a committee of co-sponsors on campus that included the Visual Arts Department, the Visual Scholarship Initiative, the Center for Ethics, the Office of Disability Services, and the School of Medicine, which agreed to exhibit the pictures, host the opening reception and artist talk, and incorporate the exhibit into a patient presentation with medical students.  

Martha Wisbey, associate director of Emory's Office of Disability Services, was one of the initial champions of the project, recognizing its potential for widespread interest.

"Parents of children with disabilities must advocate for them throughout their lives, so understanding and communicating with them is critical," explains Wisbey. "Although the responsibility changes at the collegiate level, we still see the parent-student relationship as important, and gaining insight into this dynamic relationship through Timothy Archibald's ‘Echolilia' photographic exhibit and program will benefit the whole community."

A conversation with the artist, moderated by Center for Ethics Director Paul Root Wolpe, with opening remarks by Marcus Autism Center Director Ami Klin will be at the Center for Ethics on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m.

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