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Portraits of Love: How One Father Captured the True Essence of His Autistic Son

Kitchen Table: Elijah Archibald smelling flowers
Timothy Archibald
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Around the time my son Elijah—Eli, for short—began kindergarten, many questions arose about his unusual behavior. There were problems at school and emotional challenges at home, and it was clear that he was very different, in all ways, from his younger brother. As a dad, I felt I couldn’t really connect with him, I couldn’t understand him—and he couldn’t understand me.

To kill time one afternoon, I brought out the camera and figured I’d photograph him to see if I could observe anything that would help me understand him. Soon he wanted to participate.

The project started very simply: Together we would take note of something—a body movement, a gesture, a household prop—and agree to make a photograph with that when the light got good. Eli would perform and I would operate the camera. The images that resulted seemed to get me into my son’s brain. And as we were working together, he seemed to get into my brain as well.

This project continued for three years and culminated in my book Echolilia/Sometimes I Wonder, which was published in 2010. Afterward it seemed like Eli and I didn’t need to make these pictures together anymore. We had already built a bridge.”

Here are seven beautiful and poignant photographs of Eli, taken by his father. To learn more about Echolilia or to buy the book, go to Timothy Archibald’s website.

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