Kristin Chalmers Photography » the blog of Kristin Chalmers Photography

Broad Spectrum – It’s not a sunscreen

What is the Broad Spectrum Project?

Well I have needed to post a blog about this forever!  I’m so busy between my clients, my kids and my husband I have yet to sit and write a detailed description about it.

About a year ago I was approached to collaborate with the Camphill Special Schools in Phoenixville PA on a book they wanted to create about the school’s 50 year anniversary.   So every season, on my own dime, I made the 6 hour drive from Boston to Phoenixville to document the daily life at this magical school.  I wasn’t sure what would evolve from this work, but I decided to just go, immerse myself within the community and see what happens.  I also promised that I wouldn’t think to myself “Hmmm, I wonder how this project can get me on Oprah?”.  Just take pictures, spend time in the community and let it find it’s voice.
What is Camphill Special Schools?

The Camphill School is a worldwide organization with locations throughout the United States and Europe.  Their Pennsylvania campus is the largest.  Camphill Special School is a school which takes the principals and philosophies of the Waldorf program (they are actually Waldorf accredited) and incorporates those practices into a residential school for children and young adults with a variety of disabilities and special needs such as autism, fragile X syndrome, mental retardation, fetal alcohol syndrome, and variety of other physical and mental challenges.
85% of the students at the school have some form of autism.

The Phoenixville School has two campuses.  Beaver Run, which is a more traditional school for grades k-12.  Then there is Beaver Farm, where I live during my time here.  Beaver Farm is the transitional life skills program where students range in age from 18-21 years old.  They are 99% male, all have some form of autism and some are unpredictable and can be violent.  (something I never really saw during my visits so far) The students on both campuses learn basic school curriculum as well life skills and trades like farming, knitting, wood working, culinary skills, weaving and a host of other trades that will help them throughout life.  Even though many of the students live on the campus, there is no “lock down”.  The school is their HOME!  They have the ability to roam the campus on their own and there is always staff around to assist them when needed.  They are loved and cared for in away I would have never imagined.  There is an element of spirituality and peace that spreads throughout the community, which I believe sets the tone for the entire program.

Fast forward to today.  It’s has been one year and I have over 3000 edited images to share with the world.  The school is still producing it’s book, which I have come to find it’s more like a really great gift to the Camphill community.  A calling card, if you will.  But the work I have done is much more.  It’s more intimate.  It explores the struggles and joy that the students experience on a daily basis.  It’s the environment that the dedicated staff have created for the children and young adults here. I feel that I have found the key into a world of people afflicted with disorders such as autism and other physical and mental challenges.

The book will be published next year.  Most of the work in the book is mine but there was another photographer that joined in because his son is a student there.  His work is included as well but it’s very different than my own.  Once the book is complete I have to ask myself, “well, what is next?”  I have so many images that I want to share.  So I will be having my first show this February at a small gallery.  The money I make from the sale of the prints will help to do the following things.  1. Pay the bills that I have acquired during my visits last year.  2. Buy approximately 18 – 20 point and shoot cameras for the students living in the young adult campus so that they made be able to take photos.  3.  Return to Camphill at least once a year until…whenever.  Maybe publish the work, I don’t know.  Oh, and give a little back to a charity like Autism Speaks.

If you have a loved one affected by autism and would like to have them photographed, please contact me directly.

I will post images from my work every few days as I continue to edit them.  I will also include personal stories about what my life has been like on a somewhat daily basis.

The images below are from my very first visit last November.  These are from the Beaver Farm campus which is the school for 18-21 year old kids.  This is the property where I live when working.  I feel like it is my home away from home.

Enjoy!

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