Belly Laugh


Still pictures are wonderful. Even though they sometime portray something different than the reality of a situation, a photographer seeks to portray self-truth. A great photographer gives the viewer a window to how he or she sees the world. One such artist is Diane Arbus. When I first studied her work, my impression was that she exploited the subjects in her photographs. She seemed to create images of people that emphasized their freakishness. I raised the issue of Arbus’s work during a workshop with Larry Fink. Having known her, he told me that the images she took reflected the way that she saw the world. Reading her photographs with that in mind, gave me new insight to her work, and her truth.

I used photography in a slightly different way during my project to figure out my relationship with my older brother Michael, who is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal. The truth about Mike may not be knowable, but I tried many different techniques, garnered from different photography classes, to create images that would reveal some insight, if not truth.


Photographs can be interpreted differently. For instance, I took the photograph below when Mike was laughing. But it is not obvious. One could see the image as a grimace, a grunt, a Tourettic tic, or other idiosyncratic expression.

Photograph of Mike seeming to laugh

Moving image

Series of stills from video showing Mike laughing

(Note: I found it necessary to show a series of stills from the analog video, instead of an actual video clip. I hope they do my brother’s laugh justice.)

There is no ambiguity in a video I took at a birthday party for Michael at his group home. My parents were there, all the other residents were gathered around the tables in the dining area. Mike was at the head of the table, waiting. Something must have struck him as being hilarious, because he started laughing. Really hard; so hard that he lost his breath. Laughing, just like anyone else. I remember that Mike used to laugh occasionally, but seeing his belly laugh… I don’t know how to explain it. I was sad that I had minimized those memories, or had summarized them so much that they became as 2-dimensional as my photographs. I found myself missing being around him, even though 98% of that time I couldn’t tell what was going on in his head.

I miss that 2%


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