Artist’s Statement

I think I can encapsulate my process of exploring my relationship with my brother as a (sometimes) systematic organization of information I had already (i.e., family photographs, my early writing) combined with a search for new information. This involved getting more involved with Mike’s life to see what it was like, documenting my experiences with writing and photographs, and looking at him in a context larger than family life.

I wanted to come to some conclusions, encapsulate what I have learned and share my experiences with others. Even if my conclusion was that by brother was unknowable, my efforts would not be wasted, as I am certain that others face similar challenges.

Below is an artist’s statement I wrote some years ago, which can be thought of as a mission statement for my writing, photography and other artistic expressions that would help me convey my message about Michael, my family and me.

My artist’s statement

I noticed something in a photography I had taken at my older brother Michael’s fortieth birthday party, that I had never seen before. One of his eyes was staring at me, acknowledging my presence. Michael was diagnosed as autistic and profoundly retarded. He has never spoken and it was never obvious to me if he knew who I was. Mike lived at home until I was ten years old, when he was brought to live at Willowbrook, a mental institution on Staten Island. He lived there until it was closed (in the 1970s) after wide-scale abuse was uncovered. My family and I used to visit him there. Today he resides in a group home.

The photographs I took in the early days have both the qualities of being detached and personal. They were an exploration. Where was Michael? Who or what was he? Was I like him? Was he like me? How close could I get? If I got close enough with my camera, would I be able to discover something from that picture that I couldn’t see in real life? I included the rest of my family into the mix. How were we shaped by having Michael as a family member? I was searching for an inkling of closeness or recognition. I photographed Michael at his home, at day programs, at parties with friends and at the grocery store. I attended the periodic reviews held by his car givers to discuss his medical, socialization status and progress toward personal goals. I was astonished that he could be taught to sign for basic needs such as “drink” and “bathroom”.

My quest to understand Michael has led me in many different directions. During my early years, I wrote many of my thoughts on paper, partly to help me think. Later, when I studied photography, I brought my personal project with me to every workshop, to see what I could learn from each photographer.  I attended Tisch School of the Arts, Interactive Telecommunications Program with the idea of building a virtual environment based on my interpretation of the world Michael inhabits.

As an artist, my goal is not only to better understand people like Michael, but to make others aware of their humanity.

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