For years, Rick Guidotti photographed fashion models until a chance meeting at a New York City bus stop changed his mind about beauty. The beautiful albino girl waiting at his stop had very low self-esteem due to her skin condition, he found. So he asked to take her photo. It transformed her, he said.
“I’m the same photographer,” Guidotti said last week in Tel Aviv. “For me, it was always about beauty. Nothing really changed.”
Guidotti now photographs people with disabilities worldwide through his nonprofit organization, Positive Exposure. He wants his work to improve public perception of people with disabilities and help the subjects of his photos appreciate their own beauty.
He spoke last week at sixth annual conference of Beit Issie Shapiro, a Ra’anana-based nonprofit dedicated to improving quality of life and social integration for people with disabilities, which is sponsoring an exhibit of his photos at the Ramat Aviv Mall in central Israel.
“People tend to move their eyes aside. What we’re doing is showing how normal it is. They can look directly at the pictures and enjoy them,” said Yoav Gaon, whose 7-year-old son, Erez, is featured in the exhibit. “Rick has this expression, ‘Change how you see, see how you change.’ Once you see people with disabilities being happy you realize we are all alike.”
The exhibit features photos Guidotti took in Israel and internationally.
Israeli society seems very accepting of differences, Guidotti said, and his local photo shoot in Ra’anana, where Beit Issie Shapiro is located, was a great experience for both the kids and the families.
Some of Guidotti’s subjects and their families, many of whom know each other through the organization, were at the opening of the exhibit. The kids ate ice cream and waited to see themselves in a slideshow that displayed photos of each person with a brief biography. Curious passersby stopped to see what the excitement was about.
That was the idea, said Sigal Winter, a staffer from Beit Issie Shapiro.
“We decided to open the exhibit in a public space in order to connect people with disabilities with the public,” said Winter. Guidotti’s work is usually shown in less public areas, like hospitals, she added.
It was Guidotti’s first visit to Israel, and the bright, energetic photographer remembered all of his subjects — both local and international — by name. He said his work gives people an opportunity to look at people with differences and become more comfortable with those who don’t look like them. He pointed out a photo he took in the United States of a girl with dwarfism.
“First you see she’s different, then you see how beautiful her green eyes are, you see her dress,” he said. “When we walk down the street and see someone with a difference we want to look away. Sometimes that is more painful.”
Guidotti said he sees positive results from his work all the time, although he believes the public perception of people with disabilities still needs to improve.
“They should be seen how their parents see them and how people who love them see them,” he said. “We all deserve to be happy and we all deserve to be proud.”