Nature photography and the autistic point of view

My autistic point of view is the reason for my artwork.

By Malcolm Wang

I am a working artist, specializing in nature photography. I want to tell the story of how I became interested in photography.

When I was a toddler, I did not sleep well and had a lot of challenges. Almost every day, I would have panic attacks. I also tried to run off by myself a lot. That is called elopement, and it is dangerous because I could have had accidents outside. One funny story is I waited until my mom had to go the bathroom, then I took off all my clothes, unlocked the front door and ran outside into the snow. I was 2 years old. My mom understood that I did that because I wanted to be outside. I was curious. I wanted to feel the cold air and touch the snow.

My mom took me for long walks every single day. We went in the woods and around the block. She took me to see things that were interesting to me like fountains and tall buildings. If I woke up at 5am and could not go back to sleep, we would walk in the neighborhood or go to the 24 hour grocery store or go swimming at the rec center. I learned the words for different things and about different places. This satisfied my curiosity. I did not want to run away anymore.

When I was 6 years old, my parents gave me a camera. I took pictures of my baby brother. I took pictures of things around me. Most of the pictures were blurry. We hung them up in the hallway anyway. The pictures helped me remember things that happened during the day. I have a lot of energy, so on the weekends and school breaks, we would go hiking in the woods and my mom would carry my brother on her back. I would carry the camera.

I love taking pictures of trail markers at state parks and nature preserves. The trail markers are special because they are numbered and they have a picture of the park map. I love to memorize the maps and the numbers. From taking pictures of trail markers, I learned to focus the camera. I look at the trail marker pictures at home on the computer and it makes me feel happy and brings back a happy memory.

I started taking pictures of nature in 2013 when I was twelve years old. I saw trees, birds, flowers, and ponds. Every year in June, we go to the Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor to see the peonies in full bloom between trail markers one and two. Then, after we see the peonies and take lots of good pictures, we go see the other trail markers. My high school classes helped me enjoy photography more. I took two semesters of photography, and I took a class in environmental science where I had to learn the names of animals and trees. Now, I find the animals and trees in the parks, and I name my photos after each species. In English class, I learned about figurative language like metaphors. So, my photography is a metaphor for my autistic worldview.

I use two cameras. The first is a small autofocus Canon PowerShot Elph 135 that I use to shoot photos through a kaleidoscope. Those are abstract photos with a repetitive pattern. I love my kaleidoscope photos because the pattern is different every time. I have thirteen kaleidoscope photos in my portfolio right now, but I am working on more. My other camera is a Canon PowerShot SX530 HS, and this is a Digital SLR Camera. I use that one for zooming in on flowers and insects. These photos have a higher resolution.

I process my photos through Photoshop. I edit the colors and sharpen the image. For example, I took a picture of dewdrops on Jewelweed at Proud Lake State Park on the Marsh Trail between trail markers three and five. I made the dew drops more clear by adjusting sharpness, lighting, and color saturation. When I see that photo, it makes me very happy to think about that early morning hike.

I have exhibited my artwork at the Novi Civic Center in Novi, Michigan and the Matthaei Botanical Garden in Ann Arbor. At the Novi Civic Center, many of my teachers and friends came to see my artwork. I like to submit my artwork to juried exhibits and contests. The Michigan PTA, the Northville Art House, the Autism Alliance of Michigan, the Art of Autism, and the City of Novi have all been very supportive of my artwork. My goals for the future are to continue art shows and open an Etsy shop. Other parents should take their children on walks more often.

My autistic point of view is the reason for my artwork.

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Editor’s note: Congratulations to Malcolm who sold his photography at the Art of Autism’s Coffee with a Splash of Art event at Bogarts Coffee House in January!

1 Comment

  • Malcolm

    I have a few Michigander friends who love nature too [many of them are students] and they may well have seen your work.

    And also there is a young man called Quincy who walks outside of Denver. He loves to take photos and listen to music.

    Trail markers are fascinating. Some people also take pictures of emergency markers which help them not get lost.

    I have a feeling your toddler self was actually very wise going outside because inside would have been even more scary, especially during a panic attack.

    Happy accidents find a purpose!

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