Eileen’s Family Story Autism Cafe

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Iris Hu

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January 5, 2020

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In December, one of my clients flew me back to Austin to take their family photos. Since it was a very brief trip, I just arranged three sessions while I was in Austin. One of them is with Eileen’s family. Eileen, the founder of The Autism Cafe. She is an amazing photographer and writer. She was born in France and now lives in Austin Texas with her husband Willy and their two sons, one with severe autism. And herself is on the autism spectrum. You can find her book All Across the Spectrum on Amazon (kindle version) and shopcatalog (hard copy).

It was an unforgettable experience to photograph her amazing family. Eileen and her husband Willy are so calm and gentle, it’s like their nature to communicate their sons the best. Especially with Charlie who cannot talk, they know how to direct him in their own way, silently and lovingly. We explored the area, chased the light, and let them have their moments. I’m honored to document a little piece of their life that day. 

“We are still hoping for a miracle. I know that he’ll talk and understand us one day.” —— Eileen

When I look at these photos, between Eileen and Charlie, their connections looks like many of other mother and son moments I captured before, simple and beautiful. But I remember back the time while I was looking at them through my camera, the way she knows every meaning of Charlie’s each movement and expression; and the way she directed and guided him through her gentle gestures and soft speakings. It wasn’t simple. Maybe simple for me, just be there one hour with them taking photos.

“But even among other kids with autism, he was still very much different. The other kids could communicate and interact and he was just screaming —— I felt so lonely.” —— Eileen

I have photographed hundreds of families, that I have met hundreds of parents. Often I see the dad and the mom have different personalities. If one is very outgoing, the other could be more reserved. If one gets upset easily when kids aren’t cooperative during the session, the other one would calm him/her down. Eileen and Willy both are very calm persons. At first I thought just happened to be two persons with similar personalities. Then I saw how they act like a team to take care of boys, comfort them and guide them during the sessions. I realized, maybe they are not born with such calm and gentle qualities, but they are who they are now because their kids need them to be.

 “I write better than I speak,” she says, “so Charlie and I have that in common. We communicate silently.” ——Eileen

I can relate this so so much. It speaks right into my heart, like a lightening struck, as it explains my life-long struggles with social anxiety. Photography to me is like writing to Eileen. I can never do public speaking, handling attentions on me by any means; but as long as I’m behind my camera, I feel comfortable to communicate with others, with the rest of the world, just in a more quiet way.

Now I’m trying hard to recall, I can’t remember many talkings, what we actually chatted about, or how they talked with each other. I remember the colors of the light, the rustling sound while walking on the pavement road, the wind blowing under the blanket… All the other speakings became vaguely in distant.

I remember: I remember I followed them to explore this unknown area; I remember the light lit through their hair; I remember dusts sparkingly here and there; I remember they kissed and hugged in halos. I remember we chased the light like I always do. Or maybe it was quite different this time, as I tried to let them direct, so I just changed positions and perspectives myself, to paint the light into their stories.

You know, all my sessions in Tennessee were taken in cloudy and gloomy days; as if we saved all the light to this particular session.

If this is not a good wish and blessing, I don’t know what it is.

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