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IANS WORLD. Something clicked the moment Ian, whos autistic, began taking pictures only last Good Friday with a Canon Powershot A560 with 7.1 megapixels. Here Ian offers an off-center shot of a zebra ambling toward a tree at the Manila Zoo. He has come up with the kind of shots that have eluded some of us even with years of training, said John Chua, his mentor and advertising photographer.


Beauty is in eye of autistic youth

By Volt Contreras
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:28:00 04/06/2008

Filed Under: Arts (general), Photography, People

MANILA, Philippines?At 25, Ian learned only last month how to ?point and shoot? with a digital camera, yet he has amazed many with the images he has captured through his lens?and through the invisible wall that stands between his world and theirs.

It?s like something ?clicked? the moment Ian, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), began taking snapshots like a boy who had found a new toy.

Ian?s pictures, according to Philippine Daily Inquirer chief photographer Ernie Sarmiento, suggest ?a natural eye for composition and detail.?

He has come up with ?the kind of shots that have eluded some of us, even with years of training,? said ace advertising photographer John Chua, who introduced Ian to his new hobby by chance.

Chua first bumped into Ian and his mother on March 16, as he searched Manila Bay for a rowboat scene required by an ad client.

A small world it must really be, for in that casual exchange Chua learned that he had worked with Ian?s father in a project years ago.

The welcome coincidence easily kindled a friendship. Before parting ways that day, an exuberant Chua encouraged the doting mother to give Ian a simple camera?a Canon Powershot A560 with 7.1 megapixels?and let him click away as he pleased. Good for mother-and-son ?bonding,? he had remarked.

When shown Ian?s raw, unedited photos a few days later, Chua couldn?t believe what he saw.

Portfolio of 15 photos

In an interview on Thursday, Chua said that if he were to put together Ian?s portfolio he could already use 10 to 15 photos, including one of the Manila Bay skyline that the Inquirer carried on its front page on April 2, the first World Autism Awareness Day.

That portfolio would also include a close-up of a turtle, showing only half its face and a hint of its scaly front limb; an off-center shot of a zebra ambling toward a tree; an action photo of a small motorboat roaring on the gray surf, leaving a white trail of foam; a vignette of a bamboo footbridge and its Monet-esque reflection on a slow-running stream; a stark shot of a wooden floor?s multiple vertical lines broken by a pink pair of slippers placed quaintly at the upper left corner of the frame and with Ian?s toes partly visible at the bottom.

There?s an interesting story behind the photo of the turtle, which was taken at Manila Zoo in Chua?s presence. Ian was supposed to take a souvenir picture of his mom sitting on the ground ?right next to the turtle? and petting it.

?Then I noticed that Ian was pointing his camera way too low,? Chua recalled.

It turned out that Ian was focusing, not on his human subject, but on the animal. The resulting shot is a masterful play of texture and light.

Sunset outside his window

A recurring theme in Ian?s album is the mesmerizing Manila Bay sunset, which he can shoot literally through his window.

That is because for the past six months, Ian?a son of a Manila-based businessman?has been living on a family-owned yacht, with his mother and a household staff that includes the vessel?s crew who look after him.

Ian?s parents requested that the family?s identity be withheld in this report. But on Thursday, his mother hinted that this anonymity would not hold for long.

?Hopefully, next year we can put up an exhibit of Ian?s photos, if people are interested enough,? she said.

The decision to move Ian from his condominium residence to the yacht was intended to allow him more ?freedom and movement.?

In dealing with an ASD case in the family, the mother said, ?we are the ones who try to adjust to what he wants.?

Watching Ian grow, the family ?first thought he was just slow, lazy,? until he began having seizures at age 10, she recalled.

Today, Ian takes up to 15 pills daily for his seizures and hyperactivity.

At least two men are required to hold down the 5?8,? 190-pound Ian whenever he has a seizure. The scars on his limbs and head are testament to the injuries he had sustained during those times.

Separate concepts

Ian can process things mentally only ?when these are itemized, which is one of the problems of autism,? the mother observed.

?Tell him ?the shop is closed,? for example, and he can process ?shop? and ?closed? only as separate concepts, which he can?t comprehend together in a sentence. He will insist on going to the shop himself, and only after he sees that it is closed can you go home.?

But in the same breath, she said, this fixation on the parts and failure to grasp the whole might help explain why Ian easily took an interest in photography.

Chua shares this view.

Most of Ian?s pictures are repetitive shots taken of the yacht?s various sections, apparently with no other purpose than to isolate and lend significance to the ordinary things making up his world.

Just the basics

There are, for example, three shots of the steering wheel almost from the same angle, followed by a number of shots of the same lighting fixture or doorknob, then two shots of a pair of shoes lying on top of a coil of rope.

Chua said he had never coached Ian about composition, lighting, etc., but had merely taught the young man the very basics, such as the right buttons to press when taking a shot or adjusting the zoom lens, plus some dos and don?ts to protect the camera from damage.

?Don?t block the lens with your fingertips? was one constant reminder.

Ian, of course, has taken frame after frame of flawed, forgettable shots, which were not deleted from his camera?s memory.

This is proof that Ian, and not some ?pro,? did the shooting, Chua said.

But between bouts of trial and error, Ian has managed to produce some remarkable pictures?no mean feat, Chua said, considering that he has never gotten past the auto-focus setting and had yet to learn how to edit or crop pictures.

Asked how he chose his subjects, Ian would simply reply: ?Because there?s a wave.? ?Because there?s reflection on the water.? ?Because there?s fish, and seaweed is their food.? ?Because they?re my mom?s shoes.? ?Because they?re on our boat.?

Bigger picture

Regardless of whether her son would be good enough to put up a one-man show someday, Ian?s mother is already seeing the bigger, brighter picture.

Since one of Ian?s photos came out in the Inquirer, she has been showing it off to family and friends, even to the staff and regular customers of a restaurant by the bay where she and her son often dine.

?That day, [the people in the restaurant] approached Ian and teased him asking if he could take their photos for the newspaper, where before they tended to avoid him. They used to be afraid of him because of his tantrums, but that day they smiled when they saw him,? she said.

?It?s as if a new window had opened for my son, through which he can reach out to people, and people to him.?

Observed Ian?s dad: ?His tantrums have become less frequent, you can say by about 50 to 60 percent. There have been really some big changes; now he wants me to take him to other places where he can shoot pictures.

?It?s no longer about the photographs per se, but the reactions of people [upon learning that Ian can take good pictures].?

Seeing beauty

Chua and Ian?s parents share the hope that his fascination with photography is not something he will eventually ?outgrow? and abandon once the thrill is gone.

?With every photo you take, you encounter something new, so I don?t see him growing tired of it in the way a child would eventually grow tired of his PlayStation,? the father said.

?This is a new kind of therapy for us,? the mother said. ?The pictures are just secondary. It?s more about my son seeing what is beautiful. And that, I think, is something that has no limits.?

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