In the air again! Photography in Toronto

Contributed by Mary Birdsell

Last summer, I traveled to Tanzania to take photographs. In February, I followed my camera to Toronto. This was my first visit to Canada. It was a wonderful experience dotted with several visits to Tim Hortons.

When I traveled to Tanzania, I took photographs for stories that had not been written. There was no way the authors I work with could know what stories I would find. This time, I had stories that were already written, so I had specific photos that I needed to take. One of the authors I work with had spent two weeks last July at the Toronto Summer Institute. This international annual event focuses on the inclusion of individuals with disabilities. While she was at the institute she discovered two wonderful stories.

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A Different Lens: Part 2

Contributed by Mary Birdsell, Photographer

Last month I wrote an article for this site, discussing my experience photographing children with special needs and my upcoming trip to photograph children in Tanzania. International travel, two words that appear exciting, exotic, and luxurious, are in reality about spending hours wedged between strangers. It is neither exciting, exotic, nor even the slightest bit luxurious. After landing in a different hemisphere, the excitement starts to build again. I’m not sure what I expected to see in Tanzania, but I was surprised to see fields of corn. As a Midwesterner, I’m well versed in fields of corn and found it very welcoming. What made it exotic was seeing palm trees growing next to the corn. Fields, mountains, plains, rainforests, and beaches met to make picture perfect views.

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A Different Lens: Finding Diversity through Photography

Contributed by Mary Birdsell

Cameras are magic. By capturing a moment in time, cameras give us the ability to explore actions and emotions in a way that we cannot in another medium. Each time I look through a lens, my perception of the world is altered. I can see and photograph something large, magnificent, like a sunset or something smaller, poignant, like a smile. Perception is a funny thing, it can change big things to become more accessible and alter smaller things to become more meaningful. In the instant a photograph is taken, a person is at their most vulnerable because a camera will show only the truth. Every emotion, from frustration to triumph, sadness to joy, is seen through the lenses of my camera.

Children in particular express each emotion clearly. I’ve photographed everything from weddings to landscapes, but working with children and their families has been the most rewarding. Through previous work, I was asked to photograph children that have special needs for a Finding My Way Books series, true stories that highlight inclusion and self-determination. I am fortunate to use my art to support diversity and literacy.

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Diversity, Disability, and Dolls

Contributed by Vera Lynne Stroup-Rentier, Ph.D., Author

Public Law 99-457 passed in 1986, amending the Education of the Handicapped Act and requiring states to provide appropriate and free public education to children with disabilities ages 3 through 5. Shortly after the implementation of this law began in 1991, I was fortunate enough to work with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in Washington, D.C. As one of the few white women on staff, I learned much about diversity and disability. However, the lessons I learned often left me dismayed about how society represented each and every child. I learned one such lesson when I wanted to find dolls that the children and I could wash together in the water table. I liked this activity because I could talk to children about the different aspects of the dolls, like skin color. I went in search of black dolls for the water table because the children in my class were black and Hispanic. I rarely had a white student in my class. I went to store after store after store looking for dolls. There were white babies everywhere but no black or Hispanic babies. I finally found a catalog I could order them from but could not get over that fact that dolls of other races were not available in stores. These were the same stores my students’ families shopped in every week.

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