Some say that the eyes are the gateway to the soul. But we as autists have a natural aversion to looking directly into another’s soul. Perhaps it is that we see too much at one time to process, that we are examining something great and sacred that should never bear our rigorous scrutiny.
As an artist, it is sometimes my job to capture a little something of a person’s soul, and reproduce it into my work. The whole point is to give the viewer that opportunity to make direct eye contact with the subject, and to feel something of what I was feeling when I took the photo.
But can this be done by simply pointing a camera at a person and giving them direction? Not for me. For me, I have to become friends with my subject. And, this may sound a little crazy, but I have to allow myself to fall in love with them, even if just a little bit.
It seems that we autistic adults get a bum rap for lacking emotion because the way we present ourselves in a neurotypical world can appear mechanical, logical. We may take pride in precision, in careful selection of words that convey a precise and objective meaning, perhaps because of the great difficulty with which verbal autists like myself find in opening our mouths and speaking out loud. But indeed, who among us is unfeeling? For myself, personally, I feel as if I have gotten an extra helping of heart but a half measure of that certain cerebral magic that allows one human being to connect deeply with another.
So when I take photographs, if I can manage to connect deeply with another human being, that is magic. That’s the moment that I live for. But it requires falling in love a little bit, and for the subject to fall in love with me a little bit. It’s such that when I look at her, and she looks back at me, the viewer of the final image is looking into the eyes of someone who is falling in love with them directly.
All of this comes at a great cost to me. Looking that deeply into someone’s eyes requires overcoming a feeling that I’m drowning in sensory input, like touching a stove even though you know it’s hot and it’s going to burn you. But could my work capture that certain something if I didn’t? And every time I go this far with my work, ending the session feels like breaking up. I go home, lock myself away, listen to sad music and weep. Part of my heart is now immortalized in that photograph. And I enjoy lasting friendships with my subjects, because a connection like that doesn’t simply go away just because the camera has been put back in the bag.
There is great power in lingering direct eye contact. But sometimes it is important to damn the survival instincts and embrace the sense of danger. There is a whole world of possibilities in the eyes of another human being. We can approach that world, carefully, in small sips. And in doing so, perhaps learn more of the people around us as we might learn by immersing ourselves in the sensory experiences of other things in the world around us. The magic about braving eye contact, though, is that it’s bi-directional; the other person is learning about you at the same time, if you could but chance to let them in for a little while.
Bio: Haarvey Aardvark
Haarvey Aardvark is a verbal autistic, middle-aged dirty old man, coarse art photographer, co-host of the NC CapCast, and gonzo wordsmith. Keep an eye on your women around him.