This post was originally written while I was becoming fully engaged in getting to know my older brother, who is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal. It reveals my mindset at that time. It is a bit of a journal entry, and an insight into my artistic process. I call it my ‘artistic process’ because my goal was to produce a physical result at the end (or at an appropriate stage) of my quest. I wanted to synthesize something that I could share with others and by sharing, get a sense that I wasn’t alone in my experiences.
Setting: NYC; Time: prior to 1995
Getting to Mike’s group home
Since I managed to survive the subway/bus ordeal to get to my brother’s group home, I may have been feeling a little cocky. So, one weekend, when I didn’t have much to do, I decided to visit Mike at home on the spur of the moment. The first time I did this, Michael cried when saw me. This had happened when I first saw him at his day program. Was this a repeatable phenomenon; a disruption of his routine? Was it me he was reacting to? I wanted to look around behind me to see if there was something else to which he was reacting, like when a beautiful woman would look my way and smile and I would turn to see for whom the affection was intended. Was I to absorb the moment or put the camera to my face and click instead of letting the moment wash over me? I broke out in a sweat trying to figure this out.
Comfort with the camera
My new-found ease with the New York Metropolitan Transit System was not repeated in my comfort behind the camera. I had two of them slung around my neck. Which meter do I trust? Was the scene in focus? What was I shooting, anyway? Mike moved all the time. Interacting with Mike was still as difficult as ever. I tried coming out from behind the camera to touch him now and then, but he was still utterly strange. I didn’t mind getting right in his face. If he didn’t want the camera there, he would push it away. I had no other way of telling when to back away. It wasn’t like it was with Mom, where, with the slightest glance, she could not only tell me “No,” but could evaluate and question my motives at the same time. I would back off, even before I started. With Mike there may have been another element: “Take this, you S.O.B.”
The staff tried to make me feel at home, although they were a little suspicious of the camera at first. N__, one of the counselors, always offered me something to eat. Once I accepted a nice bowl of soup and a sandwich. I was on my best behavior, but I found myself leaning over my bowl too far, in the same way as one of the clients, who was admonished for bad table manners. I’m glad that N__ didn’t see me. I decided to stay behind the camera and fade into the background. As an observer, I was able to see what life at his home was like.
A full sensory experience
There were times, when I could swear that I was in a third-world country for all the discordant activities, sights, smells and sounds that were being produced by the clients. In subsequent visits I would be caught up in the swirling activity and forget to eat or even take off my coat. I would often be light-headed and slightly agitated by the time I left for home.