Yes, I am on the spectrum, the Autism Spectrum, aka Asperger Syndrome. The spectrum has been staring at me my whole life. Not until my late 40s did I know what the symptoms were. Here is one example where my photographs answered the question of who I was that I was blind to for most of my life.
During the summer of 1977, I tagged along with my younger brother on his adventures. It gave me a chance to get out and take photographs. On one Saturday, we attended a local ski club’s end-of-summer party. They had a beer race where the contestants would run through a short obstacle course, chug a beer and run back. A great opportunity for me to crank-up my shutter speed to freeze the fast action. Later that night everyone moved indoors for dancing, well, more precisely, for more beer consumption.
Drinking beer was not my thing, and having pointless chit-chat conversations always seemed, well, pointless. I just liked being among the others who were having a good time. My companion was my camera. I was very content with waiting and looking for that right moment or situation that would produce an interesting photograph.
Then I had an idea. Here was a group of people who were seemingly just standing around doing nothing. The barn like space where everyone had gathered was dimly lit. Using a flash would not only draw attention to me, but also would not provide enough light. However, I had shutter speeds! I could capture enough light if I slowed down the shutter.
I attached a mini tripod to the camera. I looked through the viewfinder to calculate the best exposure. The shutter speed must have been set to a quarter or a half a second long. Then I held the tripod with the camera tight against the wall for stability. I composed the shot, and clicked the shutter.
OK, I thought, but I felt there must be a more interesting angle besides standing on the floor. I looked up. We were in a barn-like building with the rafters exposed. No one seemed to be looking at me, so why not. I climbed into the rafters to continue taking pictures.
In Hindsight, as Robert Frost said of his poetry, they “began in delight and ended in wisdom” but it wasn’t until several decades later that I saw the wisdom. I now look at these photographs with a new perspective. That perspective emerged from finally realizing and being diagnosed with Asperger’s. I am on the Autistic Spectrum which explained so much about my life! The doctors were correct when in 1960 they told my mother I “was too high functioning to be Autistic.” Unfortunately the work of Hans Asperger was not known to those doctors. (I’m not sure if it would have mattered, but that’s a different story.)
Today, instead of seeing these photographs as a study of slow shutter speeds, I see them more as depicting how I have seen the world my entire life. No, I do not have blur vision. Figuratively speaking, life for me has been a blur as I traveled through one adventure to the next. I have been surrounded by people and yet rarely had I truly interacted with them. I have always felt I was on the fringe.
Who has heard the phrase, “be in the world, not of the world”? I first became aware of this saying while attending a rather unique service that embraced the Science of Mind and Spirit. After that, I heard the phrase being used by other religions. I realized even Stevie Wonder mentions that phrase in his song ‘As’.
Well, “be in the world, not of the world” certainly applied to me. I bet many other Aspies felt this way too. I am here in the world living my life, but I am definitely not attached to things or people. No one thing or person, or job defines who I am. On many levels that was freeing, but on a few levels it removed me from making connections with others.
I liked being part of group activities like cycling, skiing, the night-life scene, almost any interaction where there was a common activity. But rarely did I interact. I observed from the fringe. Once the activity ended and everyone separated into their groups to begin chit-chatting, I faded further into the background. I watched and listened and became amused at some of the things being said or the behaviors being acted out. It is interesting how these photographs, that I naively took when I was nineteen really sums up my life.
In the rafters. Selfie at age 19.