by CARLY FINDLAY
Rick Guidotti’s motto is “Change how you see. See how you change”. He does this through photographing people with genetic differences, just like he would photograph supermodels. The photos enable viewers to see the person, not the condition.
(Text continues after the gallery)
When Rick Guidotti was a fashion photographer, he was always told what was beautiful. He photographed the supermodels known by their first name only – Cindy, Claudia, Naomi, Christy. But he didn’t only see beauty on the covers of magazines.
In the late 1990s, Rick saw a beautiful girl outside of his New York apartment. She had long white hair and pale skin, radiating beauty. She had albinism. Rick did some research on albinism, looking at medical text books. He was heartbroken by what he saw – the people featured in the texts were just medical specimens – their eyes and genitals blocked out. They looked sad, sick, and Rick described them as “defined by their disease”.
They were not photographed to show their personality, they were photographed to show their condition. (When I was a child, I spent many hours in a cold hospital room being photographed for similar text books due to my skin condition which I’ve written about for Mamamia here.) He wanted to change the way people with albinism were represented in medical text books, as well as in media and society, and so he contacted the albinism association, asking if he could work in partnership with them, taking photographs for text books – “showing the world the beauty of albinism”.
At first the association was reluctant, concerned about sensationalism and exploitation. But then he put forward the idea of a genetic support group with the association, and suggested they could oversee his work.
His first photographic project was with a young girl called Christine – he said she was just beautiful, but afraid to hold her head up high. She had no self esteem as a result of being teased about her appearance every day. His studio was set up from the day before, when he photographed Cindy Crawford. He treated her just as he treated Cindy, holding up a mirror to her and convinced she was beautiful. He said that at the end of the session, she held her head up high, working the room, and had the confidence to change the way society viewed her. In 1998, Rick’s work was featured in Life Magazine, showcasing a range of people with albinism.
Since then, Rick has been helping many people feel more confident through sharing their lives through images, and for the world to “see the beauty in all differences”. He set up Positive Exposure with the view to change the way society views people with a wide range of genetic differences and medical conditions.
He attends medical conferences where he photographs people with many conditions. Although an artist, he demonstrates great fluency in medical terminology, and he told me that he picks this up through spending time at conferences and working in hospitals. He also holds exhibitions of his work – one is coming up in Grand Central Station, New York.
Rick had the ability to make me feel like I am the most important person in the world when he spoke to me. And it wasn’t just me who felt this – he had time for EVERYBODY he met at the festival, and he especially made those he photographed feel like a supermodel. Just like those supermodels are known by their fist name only, the people he photographs are known by their first name. And he is so passionate about his work.
He told me about the way showcasing external beauty in people with genetic differences helps individuals develop confidence. Positive Exposure has an equation: “Self acceptance = self awareness = self advocacy”. He said that one girl came to the realisation after a photo shoot that while society will always stare, the thing that has changed is that she no longer hates the way she looks.
Rick said “We need to come up with the opportunity for people to meet people like you through our photographs”. There is a perception in society, the media and the medical profession that people with genetic differences don’t want to be photographed, that we don’t want to stand out any more than we already do. That we don’t have a right to beauty, because our appearance defines us.
And while there is more to life than external beauty, it is a part of life, and people with differences have just as much right to feel and be told they’re beautiful as “everybody else”. it’s not about vanity or conforming to images on magazines. It’s being acknowledged for our beauty.
I have been asked why, when I am not keen on people staring at me, that I am so into fashion and love being photographed. It’s because I like to look the best I can. I heard Rick say “sometimes looking away is worse than staring”. Yes. It is. I see people in the street, busy in conversation, and then the catch a glimpse of me and look away in disgust. This hurts. When I dress up in something fabulous, I want people to look at me and think I am beautiful, not look at me in disgust.
Rick took some photographs of me. I was photographed with vaseline smears and scale in my scalp. But that’s ok – I was photographed as me. No airbrushing, no holding my tummy in. Just happiness, confidence and laughter.
He certainly made me feel like a supermodel, throwing in the “work its” and “slink over to mes”. He said, on a number of occasions, “see how beautiful you look Carly”. And I did. Rick gave me permission to shine.Through him photographing me, I felt beautiful, and proud to feel so. It is ok to want to feel beautiful, and want others to see you are beautiful, even when you don’t fit the traditional mould of beauty.
I asked Rick whether he believes someone with a genetic difference will be on the cover of Vogue magazine. He doesn’t think so, but he believes that the media needs to recognise that beauty is diverse. Magazines need to recognise the beauty in people with genetic differences.
I think I just met my hero.
More about Rick Guidotti’s project can be found at Positive Exposure.