Photographer Luna TMG sees reflections everywhere

Colors of Autism
Colors of Autism

“Do you know what it’s like living in a painful glass ball? Behind a window, all the time, being aware of this invisible wall that (separates) you from the others, even when you are surrounded with other people or even with your own family?” Luna TMG

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Two years ago in 2011, I happened across an article written by Dr. Scott Standifer, entitled “Reflecting Autism: Autistic Fixation Shapes Photographer’s Unique Images.” The essay included hauntingly beautiful images by the photographer Luna TMG. I was instantly hooked! Not too long after, I asked her to participate in the book “The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions.” Dr. Standifer from the Disability Policy and Studies Office of the University of Missouri is allowing The Art of Autism to reprint an abbreviated version of his original essay. Luna has given me new photography for this blog. All images copyrighted by Luna The Moon Girl. – Debra Hosseini

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Reflecting Autism
Autistic Fixation Shapes Photographer’s Unique Images

Dr. Scott Standifer

The photographs of an emerging French photographer depict her fascination with reflections, a feature of her autism.

The photographer, who uses the online name “Luna” to protect her privacy, has-been quietly posting her haunting, evocative pictures in the Flickr photo sharing website for the last two years. With oddly vibrant colors, entrancing and disorienting. They show scenes of overlapping pictures. All of which trap one’s eye in layers of meaning.

Like most people with autism, Luna has several fixations – topics which intensely fascinate her and dominate her thoughts. For Luna, these include cats, reflections, and vegan cooking. All three show up in her photographs, but her most moving images involve the reflections she finds everywhere. She explains that, for her,

“When I’m shooting, I often see the reflection before the thing which made the reflection. The object is not as significant as the reflections. What I can see in a puddle is so moving for my soul, I’m melting with happiness!”

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Many of her pictures seem like photomontages created by combining several photographs using photo editing software, but they are not. All of Luna’s photographs are actual scenes she has found.

Luna began creating her intriguing, jewel-like pictures about four years ago with encouragement from an online French autism support group she joined in 2007. In 2009, the group hosted a small gallery showing photographs of Luna’s in the city of Brest. She had a second show in 2010, as part of France’s National Autism Awareness Week, and a third show in April, 2011. The group also has self-published a book of Luna’s work – which sold out Within two days.

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Professional photographer Courtney Bent is astonished by the power of Luna’s photos. Bent is nationally known for her work putting cameras in the hands of people with significant physical and cognitive disabilities, helping them share their unique visions of the world. Bent’s documentary about this work, “Shooting Beauty”, has won numerous awards and she has-been featured on NBC News and NPR, and in the Boston Herald. She also teaches photography at the college level and does commercial photography. As one might expect, people often approach Bent and ask her to look at a new “amazing” photograph by someone with a disability. Frequently, the work is only mildly interesting. Luna’s work was different. “I was not expecting it to make me go “WOW!” It’s rare when I see something that is (this) unique and different.”

What impresses Bent most is Luna’s use of colors.

She really is a master over her color technique,” says Bent, “There is a feeling in her images that there’s always a storm brewing. But she manages to find the quiet time within the storm.”

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Bent says Luna achieves this calm-before-the-storm effect by stripping out the color in places at the edges of her pictures while enhancing the interior colors. Her color choices intrigue Bent. “Luna manages to create a warm, neon tone in her images, which seems to be a contradiction of colors. She is able to weave warm tones of yellow and brown with vibrant neon greens and blues to create an inviting, unique color palette.”

“She has this amazing ability to create this quiet moment in chaos. It is almost like the chaos is peaceful to her.

“I’d be curious to find out how she literally views the world. It’s possible that the outside world appears to be really, really chaotic, and the snap of her camera allows her to create one still moment within the chaos, where the world stops … and is finally not moving anymore.”

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Bent is also impressed that Luna’s reflection pictures have multiple layers or planes of images. “Each little portion is an image within itself. So you are allowed to settle peacefully on each little section, and each little section seems to have its own little story.”

Despite the sophistication of her photographs, Luna is largely self-taught. She attended three years of art school several years ago and learned some basic photography skills. “We had a photography teacher” she says, “But he wasn’t impressed by my work (at this time I was obsessed by macro). I was just an average student for him. You should have seen the poor pics I produced.” A few years ago, as she explored vegan cooking, she began taking photographs of her creations and posting them to her online autism group.

A member of the group, Sue M. (parent of a young man with autism), remembers being stunned by these photos. Usually, Sue says, vegan food does not look very appealing, “You have to be clever to make it look good. But with these, I could practically smell and taste them.”

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In 2009, Luna attended an Asperger event in Paris with Sue and several other members of the online group. Luna brought along a camera and took photos, but, Sue remembers, “She didn’t want a photo of any of us, just the reflections.” In a restaurant afterward, Luna also took a photo of Sue’s dessert, making it look much more appealing in the photo that it looked in real life. “It was amazing,” Sue says.

After Luna posted the photos to the online autism group, members encouraged her to do more. Soon after, she began posting to Flickr and the group hosted her first public showing as part of a fund-raising event in Brest, France. All the prints sold that day.

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Luna has trouble explaining how she achieves her effects. “People watching my pictures are amazed by the colors of my images, the fact that common things, through my camera and my eyes, are made “beautiful”. Well, my secret is… I don’t know! LOL.” Luna uses simple, free photo-editing software which she finds online (“Photoshop seems too hard for my brain”). Then, “I switch buttons, I play with my mouse, until I’m pleased with the result and I feel well watching my pic.”

For Luna, her favorite photo is “A Whole World In A Bottle” – an image of a street scene reflected in a beer bottle, with Luna’s trademark haunting colors. This image is important to Luna because, she says, “It represents what I’m living.”

The Whole World in a Bottle

The Whole World in a Bottle

“Do you know what it’s like living in a painful glass ball?
Behind a window, all the time, being aware of this invisible wall that (separates) you from the others, even when you are surrounded with other people or even with your own family?”

Although Luna has Asperger’s Syndrome and is relatively high functioning, she has significant cognitive issues. “I have some troubles with space and time, and it’s difficult for me sometimes to understand where noises come from. I can go home after my work and I often don’t recognize my own flat. It’s more dramatic when I go away for the whole weekend: I need several minutes to re-appropriate my apartment, otherwise I begin to panic.

“I see the world through little details. I must add each of these details, one after the other, to have a general view of things.”

“I don’t really recognize myself in a mirror. I’m a “puzzle-woman”, like I was made of different pieces. I mean, it’s like I was a living camera without a body, or just a head and nothing else under. I can see my hand writing on the keyboard but it could be somebody else’s body parts. Strange, hey?”

Self-Portrait

Self-Portrait

And yet, in all this confusion, Luna finds delight in things most people overlook: “As you can see, I’m hypnotized by reflections. It’s the kind of thing that brings so much excitement & joy to me. (In my photos) I wish to put two worlds in one, at the same plane, in a wonderful encounter. These two worlds together are amazingly beautiful. I am speaking about the neurotypical world & the autistic world (the way I am living it, I mean). I think this answer is someway close to the truth.”

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The Sparkling Rainbow is a picture of tin foil Luna found in the garbage can after a New Year’s party.

Despite growing attention, Luna’s future is uncertain. She does not have a career-based job, and has held a series of temporary jobs arranged through France’s unemployment services. She has not disclosed her autism to her employers or acquaintances because of widespread disapproval in France toward people with disabilities and widespread misunderstanding of autism. “I am appreciated by the team (co-workers),” says Luna, “Even if they sometimes think I’m a bit strange. Nobody at work knows I’m living with Asperger’s. In France, we are very, very late on the subject. I could lose my job, easy & simple (if people found out). I had to create a lot of little tricks to do my job the best I can. And at the end of the day, I’m just like a zombie – so, so tired.”

Her online support group includes many neurotypical parents of children with autism. Sue says they feel very protective of Luna and are working hard to convince her she has genuine talent. In early 2011 Luna’s support group and Courtney Bent helped her set up an online store so she can sell art-quality prints of her work across Europe and in the US. Early sales were slow, but Luna is excited to have those few orders for work that she still believes is nothing special.

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In the meantime, Luna continues to roam the streets and towns of France, “Drowning in happiness” at the reflections she finds, and sharing her remarkable visions online with the rest of us.

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A complete set of Luna’s work can be viewed on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/lunatmg

Luna’s photography is featured in the book “The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions. Buy it here!

The Art of Autism is excited to sell some of Luna’s original prints in the United States.

Courtney Bent can be contacted through her website.

Dr. Scott Standifer is a Clinical Instructor in the Disability Policy & Studies office of the University of Missouri. He is the author of Adult Autism & Employment: A guide for vocational rehabilitation professionals. He can be reached at standifers@health.missouri.edu. He also posts on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AutismEmployment.

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