Last February, two buses carrying 100 kids and adults from the Autism Society Philippines (ASP) Baguio Chapter were stuck on road to Clark, Pampanga. They were on their way to take photos at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta as part of the chapter’s annual photography workshop (it's called "Colors of ‘A’ Spectrum.") Unfortunately, given the traffic situation, it seemed everyone was on their way to the hot air balloon event. And so, the activity had to be cancelled.
But, as one door closes, another opens. It turns out the unfortunate experience made way for something more spectacular. Thanks to the Angeles City Flying Club (ACFC), the group was diverted to the ACFC Woodland Air Park where 19 kids got to ride on ultralight planes for free, and several of them took these breathtaking aerial photos.
The experience turned into a project. A small group of boys with autism went on ultralight plane rides for two more weekends, and they captured a total of 2,000 aerial shots!
That was a feat. As ASP Baguio chapter chair Belette N. Vizcocho told SmartParenting.com.ph, children with autism normally have a fear of flying and venturing into spur-of-the-moment experiences. In theory, this wasn't just ambitious -- it seemed quite farfetched!
The kids, however, proved formidable in pursuing the project. It even resulted in a photo exhibit held at SM City Baguio where other works borne out of the workshop were displayed.
Started in 2009 by Manila-based photographer John Chua and ASP Baguio, "Colors of ‘A’ Spectrum" photography workshop has been offered annually each January to kids with special needs, and not just those with autism. Facilitated by Ompong Tan, one of Baguio’s leading photographers, and his band of photographer mentors, the kids get to experience one-on-one basic photography sessions with professionals.
“Each child is advised to bring his or her camera or cell phone for the workshop. The participants started out with point and shoot cameras, but after a while, some mentors allowed the kids to use their DLSR cameras. The next thing we knew all the kids shifted to the DLSR cameras and astonishingly, were able to come up with good photos!” Belette shared.
“Parents are required to be around for the duration of the workshop, to help look after their small kids and assist the mentor as necessary. Those with bigger kids just check on the kids from a distance and take the opportunity to bond with other families. After the photo shoot, all gather for a picnic lunch,” said Belette.
There's a bit of prep work that happens since you're working with differently-abled kids. Before the workshop starts, the ASP Baguio committee and photographer Ompong carefully choose shoot locations. Ideally, it can provide a lot of subjects to shoot, and the kids can roam around freely yet safely. "Mentors are given a short orientation on how to handle children with autism and what to expect from a child with autism,” she added.
The workshop benefits both child and parent -- developing the kid's skills and confidence in their abilities, and creating precious memories and moments for parents to treasure. “The first photo exhibit was the most touching and emotional one,” said Belette. “Ompong Tan and his team kept everything under wraps until launch day with all the photos covered up.
“The unveiling of the exhibit literally moved families to tears -- parents most especially had no idea of what to expect from their child who was holding a camera for the first time! All the pictures were simply amazing! The kids were beaming with pride as they stood and were photographed beside the photos they took.”
In 2015, ASP Baguio launched a coffee table book compiling the kids’ works since it was founded. The book serves as a keepsake, but also shows that children with autism and special needs are capable of venturing into fields like photography, Belette explained. All in all, the books features photos taken by 43 kids ranging from 6 to 24 years old. Here are a few of them:
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Proceeds from the sales of the book are used to subsidize continuing and future projects of the ASP Baguio Chapter, including the photography workshops.
“Anyone interested to join the workshop is welcome!” Belette said.
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Get the book at Jet Bookstore located at 2M Porta Vaga Mall, Baguio City and at the ASP National Headquarters located at #9 11th Jamboree Street cor. Scout Fuentabella, Quezon City, Philippines. Find out more about the Autism Society Philippines on its Facebook page.