April 25, 2018
JUST KIDS, a photography exhibit featuring children with developmental disabilities, is now on display in the Children’s Department of the Columbus Public Library.
Featuring children from Columbus and Georgia, the exhibit will be on display through Sunday June 3.
JUST KIDS is the brainchild of photographer Ryan Johnson, a former community support specialist at the Center for Leadership in Disability (CLD) at Georgia State University. Through his work with CLD, Johnson discovered his love for telling life stories through photography, mixing a documentary and portraiture style to give viewers a front-row seat to stories of families and their loved ones who have an intellectual or developmental disability.
“What strikes me about Ryan’s work is how true these photos are,” said Elizabeth Labbe-Webb, principal of the exhibit’s organizer, Blue Path Group, an Atlanta-based consultancy committed to bringing the work of talented artists to wider audiences and putting that work into places that invite conversation and learning.
“These are families, beyond anything else, but what also strikes me is how revelational these photos are to the folks who don’t live with someone with a disability,” Labbe-Webb said of the new exhibit. “For many people, it’s like they can only see, and may fear, the challenges involved. They can’t conceive of the enjoyable times and love within these families. I believe Ryan’s work can help change that perception.”
Among the 16 portraits included in JUST KIDS are those depicting a handful of families that are members of the Chattahoochee Valley Down Syndrome Association. The association’s board vice president, Sheetul Wall, first approached Johnson at a CLD Community Advisory Council meeting to ask if he might be interested in putting together a dozen or so photos to be displayed at the 2016 Buddy Walk event in Columbus.
“For the original exhibition, Sheetul and I decided to focus on the individuals and their siblings,” Johnson explained. “During my day with the families, all of the siblings impressed me. They were gracious, kind, gentle, and they have to wear many hats. So we went with that — while also wanting the images to be empowering for the families and individuals involved.”
That goal was met, with one parent telling Johnson “…there was one that made me cry. I felt like you captured our family, but you also captured me as a mother to my daughter and how I see my role in her life.” Said another parent: “So many people are scared to embrace the differences in people no matter what that difference is. So I just want to thank you for bringing it to the public eye and especially the academic eye.”
For JUST KIDS, the 13 images from Johnson’s original untitled exhibition have been supplemented by three new photographs for a total of 16.
GLASS director Pat Herndon is excited about the touring exhibit due to both its moving subject matter and because JUST KIDS is the first GLASS-sponsored exhibit to tour the state. “This exhibit was a huge success at GLASS Atlanta, where its original three-month run in early 2017 was extended to 19 weeks,” she said.
A division of Georgia Public Library Service, GLASS provides eligible Georgians with access to free audio materials and books and magazines in braille through the Library of Congress and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Every public library system in the state is a GLASS affiliate.
GLASS and GPLS’s strategic partnership programs are supported in part by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the Library Services and Technology Act.