Rick Guidotti, former international fashion photographer and CEO and founder of Positive Exposure, partnered with the Alpert Medical School and the Precision Medicine in Autism group last semester to display an exhibit displaying photographs of people with developmental disabilities centered around their interests. The exhibit, titled "What's Your Thing," was featured at the Med School from September to December and will move to Bradley Hospital in the coming months.
Positive Exposure, a photography nonprofit, aims to “promote a more inclusive world through photography, film and educational programs" through photos of individuals with medical conditions that emphasize their humanity, Guidotti said.
When he initially founded Positive Exposure, Guidotti remembered observing photos of individuals with diseases in medical textbooks that he felt lacked humanity. With Positive Exposure, part of his mission is to “put humanity back in medical training" through the “Faces Redefining the Art of Medical Education" project.
Daniel Moreno De Luca, a former Unicersity associate professor and now an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Alberta, said he founded Precision Medicine in Autism at Brown with a goal that also centers around patients’ humanity: “to provide research education and community engagement efforts around people on the autistic spectrum" and with "diverse neurodevelopmental conditions."
After Moreno De Luca invited Guidotti to a confrerence in 2017, he was introduced to PRISMA and knew he wanted to work with the group again, he said. From there, the idea for "What's Your Thing" was born.
Through photographs, the exhibit aimed to help audiences better understand the niche of each photograph's subject, or “what drives them,” said Molly Goldman, a genetic counselor at PRISMA.
In February 2022, Moreno De Luca, Goldman and Guidotti contacted Kris Cambra, assistant dean of biomedical communications at the Med School, to seek a host for their project.
Cambra wrote in an email to The Herald that the Med School’s Arts Council, which ultimately approved displaying the project, looks for exhibits that “use art to bring a new perspective to how we look at illness and the human experience.”
“We especially like to display works that encourage medical students to see the whole person in front of them, not just a patient or their illness,” she added.
Once it was approved, interest in the project among Moreno De Luca’s patients “just exploded,” Guidotti said.
Seth Thomas, a longtime patient of Moreno De Luca according to his moms Lisa and Joanne Thomas, was one of the participants asked to join the project, which his parents approved. Seth Thomas was diagnosed with Fragile X syndrome at the age of 4, a genetic condition that causes intellectual disability.
“If you look up a book about Fragile X syndrome or autism, you don't see very beautiful photographs,” Joanne Thomas said. “You see very clinical-looking pictures.”
“Seth is not just a diagnosis,” Lisa Thomas said, adding that she hopes the exhibit showed that her son is “much more than that. He’s a human being.”
Guidotti said he remembers a remarkably “joyful” atmosphere at the exhibit’s photo shoot. Within their photographs, participants proudly displayed their artwork, ability to solve Rubik’s Cubes and niche knowledge of 3-D printing.
Participants were “presenting themselves as honestly and as authentically as they were,” he added. “It was extraordinary.”
When the exhibit opened Sept. 14, Guidotti said “there was so much love in that room.” Families came together and participants could see themselves in the photos, “not as a snapshot, but they get to see themselves honored and respected,” he said.
When Seth Thomas first saw his picture “he just kept taking pictures of the picture of himself. He just didn't know what to say or what to do, he was just so excited,” Lisa Thomas said.
The photographs were accompanied by a QR code that linked to a PRISMA website page detailing the group’s missions and more information about the subjects of the photographs — their unique “thing” and experiences growing up with neurodevelopmental conditions.
Since the exhibit, Guidotti said he has made an effort to stay in contact with project participants. “Once you come to make those connections you feel part of the family – part of the community,” Guidotti said.
Seth Thomas still has his picture on his nightstand, a proud display of him being “a part of something,” Lisa Thomas said.
The trio of Guidotti, Goldman and Moreno De Luca also has plans to continue their collaboration, Guidotti said. Their next project, a continuation of Positive Exposure's FRAME program, is a series of “brief films helping a healthcare provider-in-training get the basic hallmark characteristics of a certain diagnosis or topic, but as presented by somebody living that experience themselves.”
For Moreno De Luca, the human element remains the key element of the new project. “We wanted to … celebrate the shared humanity that we all have,” he said.
“We’re so much more connected by our differences,” Guidotti said.
Clarification: A previous verison of this article misrepresented PRISMA's organizational structure and mission and failed to attribute a fact about Seth Thomas to his parents. Additionally, it did not clarify that the individuals referenced are photograph subjects. The article has been updated. The headline of the digital story has also been updated to better reflect the story's contents.
Clarification: A previous version of this article did not indicate that the Alpert Medical School hosted the "What's Your Thing" exhibit but did not create it. It additionally misrepresented the timeline of the 2017 conference. The article has been updated.
Correction: A previous version of this article failed to identify Positive Exposure as a nonprofit organization and its founding year. It additionally now includes Moreno De Luca's accurate title. The Herald regrets the errors.
Owen Dahlkamp is a first-year student from San Diego, CA studying Cognitive Neuroscience and Political Science. In his free time, he enjoys creating spreadsheets at Dave's Coffee.