Hundreds of thousands of Americans have Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum. Kelsey is one of them.
For the last two years, Christian Wilbur has been photographing Kelsey, a high school friend he met when they were both in the viola section of the school’s chamber orchestra. When he started photographing the 22-year-old at her home on Long Island in 2014, he didn’t know much about Asperger’s, but he was curious to learn how she navigated young adulthood with her condition. After she graduated high school, Kelsey enrolled at Suffolk Community College to study music therapy, but the stress of the program eventually made her decide to leave. She’s since completed internships at a local town hall and at a physician’s office but is still looking for full-time employment.
“Since I’ve always gravitated toward personal and familiar subjects in my work, beginning to photograph Kelsey felt like a natural and organic progression of our friendship,” Wilbur said via email.
Initially, Kelsey was camera shy, but as she and Wilbur have become closer he’s been able to photograph her daily life, including her relationship with her family and her ex-boyfriend Scott and her encounters with art and culture. Working with a 4-by-5 camera, he’s focused on small, “emotionally expressive” moments that communicate her personality and experience.
“Interestingly enough, it didn’t take too long to figure out ways in which I could visually demonstrate the disorder. Since limited social skills, communication difficulties, and increased sensory awareness are all prominent symptoms of Asperger’s, I quickly realized bringing out features of Kelsey’s disorder could be achieved through exploring her physical relationship to different people and in different environments,” he said.
Having Asperger’s has often made life frustrating for Kelsey, but with the help of her family and a life coach, she hopes to live independently and achieve financial stability. As Wilbur continues to photograph Kelsey, he hopes to show that hers is a human story first and foremost.
“I do believe that while many of things Kelsey struggles with can be directly attributed to her disorder, I also believe that many of these things are fundamental aspects of the human experience that all of us grapple with to varying degrees, such as finding and maintaining personal connections, trying to communicate with others, or even just trying to get by.”