Positive Exposure – In So Many Ways

by Waleed Ali Khan

How did a man who shot models like Cindy Crawford for magazines such as Elle and Marie Claire become one of the most inspirational people I have come across? It all started with a decision to head off to Cornell and attend a lecture entitled “Positive Exposure”

When I first heard of the idea, I thought it was nice, but nothing special, especially considering the various other philanthropic organizations doing great work out there. The website did not do it justice either (www.positiveexposure.org). As Abdullah adequately said, it was the anecdotes that made all the difference.

Photographer Rick Guidotti started his career in the glamorous world of celebrity photography and achieved much success in it. He shot for some the most renowned magazines and ad campaigns, involving the most “beautiful models” of the time. However, just like any good photographer, he saw beauty in the world around him. Furthermore, he was not a big fan of having beauty “made up” through artificial products and effects. There was this time when he saw “the most beautiful Albino kid” at a bus stop and was just struck by how stunning she was. Soon he was going through medical textbooks learning more about the disease. As he was browsing through them, he was appalled by the images of albinism used to describe the disease. They were all serious and lifeless, like a subject to be studied. Media coverage didn’t help their image either. From the evil albino in the DaVinci Code to the estranged twins in the Matrix, the media, in effect, showed that al

binos were anything but normal members of the society.

This is what lay the seeds of Positive Exposure. He was soon vowing reluctant magazine editors to have fashion spreads to change the way people see difference. Most of the victims of genetic differences such as albinism carry very low self esteem, as seen by their posture and body language. Rick faced a challenge of taking confident fashion shots of these people, and hence had to show them their beauty that was there all along. For one of the girls, who was an albino, he showed her a mirror and asked her to see how beautiful she was. Suddenly, her face lit up and her shoulders pushed backwards (see the shot)!

Rick went on to talk about about the kind of genetic diseases he has covered, including the Costello Syndrome and Epidermis Bullosa. Furthermore, he has travelled around the world, taking pictures, setting up organizations and just meeting these people. Some of his accomplishments include the setting up of a support group for albinos in Malaysia and starting educational programs to prevent discrimination against individuals with genetic diseases. One of the saddest stories he mentioned was that of Tanzania, where witch doctors claim that albino limbs can give one extreme wealth. As a result, albinos are being killed and/or their limbs amputated. Rick has been working closely with the government to fight against this height of ignorance.

There is so much to learn from Rick’s achievements that go far beyond pictures and photography. As rick puts it, it’s a simple equation where self acceptance=self esteem= self advocacy. These individuals, rather than being ostracized by society, are empowered to become ambassadors of their own cause. They realize that they can make their worlds and their surroundings change. Also, the pictures help show the human side of these people, and that despite their hardships, they still play and laugh like we all do and aren’t completely miserable.

The effects of such an initiative shines light on the power we all possess. I felt that after leaving medicine, I’ll have less of an opportunity to make a difference in the world. Rick’s work shows that we need to hone our own skills in a way to positively contribute to the world. Positive exposure has people from all fields, be it doctors, photographers, computer experts (they are building this awesome touch screen system!) and writers. As one member of the audience points out, it has far reaching lessons to world leaders who believe that cultural differences cannot be bridged.

I think photography should also open doors in the field of psychology as it presents a new field of visual-psychotherapy, where images result in an emotional change. These individuals learnt a lot by looking at their own pictures in a positive mood, and learning that they are indeed beautiful. For one, i can clearly see these techniques working on individuals with depression, low self esteem and social anxiety disorder.

I hope this blog fulfills a part of my responsibility to share the great things that Rick and Positive Exposure are doing. They are extremely welcome to exploring new avenues of helping individuals with genetic disorders and I encourage everyone to visit their website www.positiveexposure.org to send some suggestions.


(and yes Zaid, good photography CAN involve people)