New York City-based fashion photographer Rick Guidotti was living a high profile, award-winning professional life just 20-some years ago. His travels took him to Paris and Milan, and his images of supermodels graced the covers and pages of top magazines, such as Elle, GQ and People.
And then one day he saw a girl with albinism, really saw her, and the impact was life-changing.
In 1998 he started the nonprofit Positive Exposure, and since then Guidotti has been photographing and displaying images of individuals living with physical, genetic and behavioral differences. Through a collaboration with The Resource Exchange and Chapel Hills Mall, 78 of these photos—all of locals, and 46 new this October—are now on display in a glass-front gallery at the mall.
We spoke with Guidotti to learn more about his Positive Exposure work, beauty and this unexpected collaboration.
Springs: Next year will be your 20th anniversary of Positive Exposure. I assume that since walking away from the fashion industry, you’ve never looked back?
Rick Guidotti: The fashion industry—it wasn’t like walking away from it, because for me it’s always been about beauty, and it still is about beauty. Then it was only defined in the fashion industry—when I realized, no, it’s everywhere; it’s not just on covers of magazines; it’s around us. The beauty was there; it wasn’t like I had to turn my back on it. I found the beauty that we all need to see, because it exists there. We just have blinders on.
When I was thinking about this project on a personal and a community level, often when I meet or see someone who has a physical difference, I think a lot of us have been trained to not be rude or to stare —
Look away! Look away!
—yeah, and even though you want to understand and want to connect, you’re more likely to look away.
You know, after 20 years of working with these great friends of mine, that looking away is sometimes even more painful. They see it. They feel it. It’s even more painful for these kids. So that’s why these photographs, that’s why I’m relentless with these and finding these incredible partners and collaborators to create opportunities for the public. When you see someone with any kind of a difference, [take time] to gently steady their glance, just long enough until you see beauty in that reflection, and then you see beyond that beauty and that reflection to what we share, which is just humanity. … It’s mandatory for all the exhibitions I create all over the world that the images are face-mounted on a really highly polished Plexiglas surface. Face-mounted so as you approach these gorgeous images, these gorgeous faces, and lightning sparks, you’re also aware of your own reflection. The best parts of you are reflected, so it’s no longer about them, it’s about us.
I think these photos really help to normalize differences.
Oh yeah. People say to me quite often, “Oh, you were photographing these supermodels all the time, and now what’s it like photographing people with genetic conditions?” And I’m like, I have never photographed a condition ever in my life. It’s about beauty. It’s about people. It’s about presenting that person to the world how their mother sees them, how their father sees them, how someone that loves them sees them. When I’m shooting, the greatest thing—and I love this so much—is when I’m shooting, I always love to look beyond the person who’s the star, to over there to the parent or the partner or the sister, and they’re glowing because finally somebody sees what they see. And they know the world is now going to see. We’re going to share that with everybody.
The wonderful thing is all the ambassadors that are in the exhibition are all local. They’re all community-based. And they all come [to the gallery]. They come with their classrooms and their classmates and their teachers and their health care providers and their support teams and their friends and their grandmothers. And they come, and they host little miniparties in the gallery, and it’s just incredible. It’s been such a success.
Change How You See, See How You Change
Positive Exposure: The Spirit of Difference exhibition is free and open to the public. Located on the lower level near Center Court in the Dillard’s wing.
Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Learn more at positiveexposure.org.