Autism is one of those disorders that seems to characterize an era. The etiology of the disease is poorly understood, its diagnosis imprecise, its treatment frequently conjectural. But one thing is sure: Autism is common. According to the Autism Society of America's website, one in 150 children suffers it, while those in the United States diagnosed within the broad spectrum of this neuropsychiatric disorder is estimated at around 1.5 million.
Isaac Mintz, now in his early 30s, is part of that statistic. Nineteen years ago, when he was 15, he underwent surgery for spinal scoliosis. His father, photographer Charles J. Mintz, bought a Polaroid Spectra and gave it to Isaac as a tool to help him understand and come to terms with the hospital and the changes in his back. (People with autism often have difficulty understanding changes in their environments.) Soon Isaac was using the camera to organize his social world. In two decades, he has produced hundreds of photographs of family and friends, meticulously labeling each shot in a legible round hand.
The Album Project, now on view at architect Robert Maschke's 1point618 Gallery, features 17 images of Isaac taken by his father with a large-format camera, mostly during family holidays. In them, Isaac holds his photo albums open at waist level to display the pictures inside. Dressed T-shirts, shorts and athletic shoes, he is shown isolated against a pure white background, as if to say these clothes, this body and the photographs are a world unto themselves, the spare contours of an island self. In this respect, they resemble other series of photographs by Mintz, like his views of Lake Erie or Venice Beach in Los Angeles (check out his website, chuckmintz.com), which sometimes use infrared film to evoke psychological isolation. Such unsentimental — even tough — poetics of alienation are part of the vocabulary of contemporary art and the modern psyche in general. It seems especially appropriate to convey how autism feels to someone who has it.
Most of the photos at 1point618 are large — and one, printed on a screen mounted on a massive wooden panel, is huge. All show Isaac in essentially the same pose over an almost 20-year period. Looking more closely, you can see changes. Isaac's expression becomes more self-possessed, his resemblance to his father more pronounced. Together they speak of Isaac's growth and the usefulness of the Polaroid to that process of maturation. But most of all, they describe the monolithic size of the role that Isaac plays in his father's life. Though inflected with unusual difficulties in this particular case, that's the way it is for almost everyone: If parents are giants to their children, the kids also are colossal in their parents' minds, looming larger year by year. In this way, there is a rare universality in Mintz's photographs.
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