Capturing Joy on Camera
|Marsha McNeely Photography/SpecialT |
For years Marsha McNeely
, a professional photographer who specializes in kids and families, struggled to capture her son's true personality in pictures. "When I took out my camera, Tynan"—who is autistic—"squinted and became rigid," she says. "But I knew underneath there was a kid who loved to laugh."
With the advice of her son's therapists, McNeely, 39, experimented with ways to make Tynan, now 7, feel comfortable—like offering objects for him to hold or joking from behind the lens. "I was snapping moments where he was simply enjoying himself," she says. When it dawned on her that other parents might be struggling with the same issue, she began offering free photo sessions through online autism support groups, and soon received a flood of inquiries. One mother of a 9-year-old told McNeely that the last good photo of her son had been taken when he was 6 months old.
|Photo: Kendra Watson Photography|
McNeely named the project SpecialT Photography
, in honor of her son. For
these sessions, she chooses secluded outdoor settings and starts by
taking a child's hand and walking around "until they're comfortable,"
she says. "Sometimes it's half the session." When a 9-year-old autistic
girl wouldn't sit still, McNeely lay down and began rubbing a lush patch
of grass, encouraging the girl to join her. The child did. "She just
lit up," says McNeely, who often employs such calming sensory
techniques, inviting kids to feel the texture of tree bark or using
colorful pinwheels to create a visual focus. When a 6-year-old with ADHD
became frustrated, McNeely showed her how to locate her mom in the
viewfinder, and the girl cracked up. That night, when McNeely downloaded
the images, she saw a smiling child in a field of yellow flowers.
"These kids are walking a really hard road," she says. "But in these
photos, they're just peaceful, beautiful children.Keep ReadingWhy helping 4 kids in trouble is one music exec's biggest success Living with autism How to tell a story with pictures
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