They represent countries from around the world and are gathered in one place to achieve a common goal. Rick Guidotti’s photography exhibit “Positive Exposure” creates an Olympic Team of sorts, one that celebrates the sport of life.
Each portrait is astounding, repulsive, gorgeous and moving. The photographer’s mission to force people to expand their perceptions of beauty seems ludicrous at first. But the utter lack of pity one feels when looking at the pictures reinforces Guidotti’s aim: one sees the subjects as people, and not as subject to their conditions. Though all the pictures are fascinating, a few stand out because of their subjects or captions.
Joseph, a nine-year-old boy with albinism from the Fiji Islands, has an incredible smile. Guidotti adds in the caption Joseph’s advice to everyone feeling troubled: “Play soccer!” Another portrait is of Mere, also from Fiji, with her family. Mere has albinism and is holding an infant, surrounded by small children. Though she looks nothing like her family, there is no question, even without reading the caption, that Mere is the mother. Guidotti’s power lies in his ability to capture the complexity of situations with the most simplistic of ideas.
A picture of a physically disparate mother and her family could be shocking. But all the viewer observes is the simple beauty of a parent with her children.
Rick Guidotti, in the plaque describing the intentions of “Positive Exposure,” illuminates the forces driving the creation of the project.
“[For] Anyone who has ever experienced the negative social repercussions of an unconventional physical appearance,” writes Guidotti, “‘Positive Exposure’ is a learning tool and an empathetic point of union.”
Dean Judith Krauss of Silliman College said Guidotti’s work is an important addition to Yale’s art scene.
“The Positive Exposure exhibit is a breath-taking approach to reducing the stigma associated with genetic differences,” she said. “Each photo is stunning in its own right, but even more compelling when taken as a whole — It’s well worth the visit.”
Guidotti gave up a lucrative career as a fashion photographer to start “Positive Exposure” with McLean. The title is shared by the exhibit and a non-profit organization started in 1998. The goal of the program is to alter society’s concepts of beauty by educating the public about individuals with genetic conditions. “Positive Exposure” wants to eradicate the fear of physical difference and seeks to achieve this goal through visual and testimonial means. The exhibit has been used to educate medical and nursing students as well as young children. “Positive Exposure” was featured at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in 2001 as part of “The People’s Genome Celebration-Genetics is About All of US!” exhibit.
Guidotti focuses on individuals with albinism but also includes portraits of persons with conditions such as Sturge-Weber syndrome, a congenital vascular disorder that affects the brain. What is common in all of the photos is the joy of each person experiences in living his or her life. In the captions, Guidotti includes aspects of each person’s life, such as his or her goals, achievements and aspirations. Beside being supremely uplifting, the exhibit also seems interactive despite the inactive nature of photographs. By including details of these persons’ lives, Guidotti makes them relatable and much more than just images on a wall.
Guidotti’s work is particularly poignant in the context of the exhibit’s location, in the Maya Gallery. Named after Maya Tanaka Hanway ’83, a Silliman student who committed suicide in 1982, the gallery is maintained by her parents with the intention of honoring the artistic pursuits their daughter loved. Maya Gallery remains one of the only spaces run by students where undergraduates can display their artwork. The room is painted a glowing white, and the sunlight streaming through its windows gives the space an ethereal glow, an atmospheric touch that highlights the nature of Guidotti’s work. A line from a poem dedicated to Maya on the wall reads, “walk anywhere, look at anything, but please don’t take it away.”
And yet one mentally takes away many ideas after visiting “Positive Exposure” and the Maya Gallery itself. The most salient is respect and appreciation for human life, imparted by Guidotti and Hanway.