Photographer Debbie Rasiel’s Picturing Autism, on view at SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery through June 21, presents a collective portrait of the faces, families and global communities impacted by autism. The exhibition reflects her search to understand what autism looks like across language barriers and cultural divides, while gleaning stories through her travels, over the course of two years, across disparate landscapes. From Astoria, Queens to East Harlem, Alpine New Jersey to Akureyri, Iceland, from Oaxaca, Mexico to Jakarta, Indonesia, Rasiel seeks to highlight the shared physical manifestations of autism against a backdrop of poignant individuality.
Rasiel’s ongoing project has far reach, but documentation begins in her own home. She grounds her work in her kitchen with her son. When in remote areas where she struggled to get her bearings, recognizing signs of autism proved a source of familiarity, a veritable constant. Sociopolitical divisions began to fall away as she connected with the children and their caregivers.
The exhibited photographs are an opportunity for the public to feel both a part of and apart from autism. For Rasiel, the large scale of the prints becomes a decisive form of experiential translation, enabling her to visually extend her own intimacy with the subject matter to the viewer. Capturing tense moments, dysregulated facial expressions, and misshapen hands, she exposes a side of the autism spectrum that public awareness campaigns avoid. Through the lens of guarded distance, she encourages the viewer to embrace nonverbal emotive engagement and feel safe with their curiosity.