Rick Guidotti spent years surrounded by conventional beauty ideals. He worked as a fashion photographer, shooting all over the world for companies like L’Oreal, Revlon and Yves Saint Laurent. But one day, his outlook changed. He spotted a girl with albinism on the street and was struck by her beauty. When he researched the genetic syndrome in medical textbooks, he was put off by the dehumanizing images he saw. So in 1997 he started Positive Exposure, an arts organization that works with individuals living with genetic difference. Now, he works full time photographing and advocating for children with genetic syndromes.
BLOOM: How are the visual stories you tell about these children different?
Rick Guidotti: The images…that I was force-fed when I first started Positive Exposure were images that are typically used in medical textbooks: pictures of kids up against walls in doctors’ offices with a black bar across their eyes, pretty much being portrayed as a disease as opposed to a kid.
I understood the importance of these images to show health-care providers how a condition presents itself, but nobody ever looks like that! I thought, “There has to be another way that we can present the same information in a photographic image but add another quality.”
That quality we add is humanity.
BLOOM: How did you learn to see beauty differently?
Rick Guidotti: That’s something where I don’t fully understand what happened. Walking down Park Avenue I saw a kid waiting for a bus and she was beautiful. She had albinism, so was never included in (the) beauty standard. I realized instantly that there was so much more beauty out there. What terrified me was I wondered how many months I’d walked past that girl and didn’t see her.
BLOOM: Had you worked with people with physical differences before Positive Exposure?
Rick Guidotti: No! As a fashion photographer, not at all. I never even knew anybody with a genetic syndrome in my life!
BLOOM: How can Positive Exposure’s images help to fight our fixations with beauty ideals?
Rick Guidotti: By giving people permission to see beauty and to interpret beauty in their own right. Not to see a beauty that’s dictated by industry’s ideas of what’s acceptable, but to judge for yourself. This is not inner beauty. I don’t believe in that. I’m as shallow as it gets. These kids are gorgeous, we’re just not allowed to see it. But these images give us the freedom to see it and it changes everything.
BLOOM: Have you noticed a difference in kids after they see their photos?
Rick Guidotti: Oh my, across the board! I first started off with a girl named Christina with albinism who had been teased her whole life for her difference. Even though she was stunning, gorgeous, she walked in with her shoulders hunched, her head down, no eye contact. She had zero self-esteem. But then photographing her and showing her her magnificence, like “Look at yourself!” I watched her just transform in front of the lens. And it happens every time.
BLOOM: Why is it important for people to see these images?
Rick Guidotti: I can shoot photos of a kid in my studio and they can see they are amazing. But by the time they leave the studio and make their way down Park Avenue, five people stare at their wheelchair or their birthmark, or somebody whispers or giggles or points or looks away. Their empowerment breaks down immediately. We realized that what we need to create are opportunities to make the idea of celebrating (diversity) relevant to the public at large.
It’s so important to bring these images to the public in many different ways, so that people have opportunities to really approach them. Because once you approach these images, you’re no longer afraid to look at them. You reach out, not because somebody has a difference, but for humanity, to a person. The fear is broken down.
Interview by Megan Jones. Full story in the July issue of BLOOM. Rick calls the photo above: The Amazing Pauline!