Immersed: Our Experience with Autism
Bruce and Valerie Hall
Published by Visual Summit
Review by David Royko
Immersed: Our Experience With Autism is the most important book produced about severe autism, ever.
“Severe,” as in the devastating disorder of autism, what it meant before the new millennium, and what it still means for a sizable percentage of those so diagnosed. “Produced,” because it is both an extraordinary book of photography as well as a compelling literary work. Photographer Bruce Hall, whose work has appeared in countless galleries and National Geographic, is legally blind, which is not a novelty; it is part of how this book exists.
In Bruce’s case, blindness (stemming, to be specific, from nystagmus, myopia, astigmatism, amblyopia, macular degeneration and exotropia) leaves him with about 5% of what the rest of us can see. His photography enables him to see his subjects close-up — literally, with his nose inches from the computer screen. Details and possibilities emerge that would pass unnoticed by most.
As it says on his website: Most photographers see in order to photograph. Bruce Hall photographs in order to see.
The pictures range from well framed literal life documents to often stunning works of art that exploit the natural distortions that come from the combination of light, color and, frequently, water.
His love for scuba diving combined with photography became a natural outlet for his creativity, and he produced stunning work from under water. But when severe autism entered his family, afflicting his twin boys, the demands it brought to his life seemed to put an end to his love affair with water and his art.
But in a huge instance of lemonade from lemons, he discovered that his talents and love for H2O immersion, and, with no irony here, his vision, could uniquely illuminate his family’s life — and that of countless other families like his.
And, serendipitously, Bruce’s spouse, Valerie Hall (who holds a Ph.D in education) has a way with the written word that matches Bruce’s way with a lens. Her writing accompanies the photos and illuminates virtually every facet of the disorder, with a single paragraph to a few pages, and can be read cover to cover, or each segment in isolation, with a style that combines clarity with humor and even whimsy.
She also delivers subtle yet profound insight. With a sharp poignancy, she parallels James’s love for looking at pictures with his Dad’s, displaying what virtually all parents see in their children, neurotypical as well as autistic — the traits they share.
Immersed is Bruce and Valerie Hall’s gift to the world.
It is a book that, with every sentence, expresses my own thoughts and experiences. And virtually every parent or person with severe autism in their life will have the same reaction.
My own first pieces on autism I Xeroxed and left for neighbors, mailed to friends, gave to extended family, all the people we disappeared from when autism overwhelmed our lives, before I even thought about submitting them anywhere for publication. This book is that times ten.
It is a book parents of severely autistic boys, girls, men and women will want to give to those in their lives whom they want to understand what living with severe autism really means. And it will do just that, and, make it a pleasure in the process — one of the big reasons I consider this book a masterpiece.
In the “severe” world, autistics themselves simply CAN’T self-advocate, and their families are often too exhausted and depleted to do it for them. This has a negative impact on the lives of those in the severe world by limiting choices in funding for, among other things, housing and residential placements.
For that reason alone, it is a book all politicians and policy makers need to see. It exposes the severe autism life that goes under-reported. Our profit-drive mainstream media knows eyeballs are attracted by human interest success stories and exceptional instances of savant skills and miracle cures, and that’s what the general public is offered. The side the Halls show us is the autistic world too often ignored.
But they have done it with a beautiful tome that shows the love and joy and beauty of their family, which includes the boys’ older and exceptionally gifted sister, without pulling any punches or glossing over the heartbreak and often devastating difficulty autism brings to so many innocent victims. It is a truly enjoyable, exquisitely beautiful book, not a draining, woeful tale. Nothing is glossed over or romanticized, but the combination of pictures and words makes this the ultimate spoonful of sugar with the medicine. For those reasons, it is a book everyone should read and view. Families with severe autism will see their own lives pulled out from invisibility and illuminated with respect; those who don’t know the reality will learn about it in all its depth and dimensions; and anyone who likes gorgeous eye candy will be immersed for 275 riveting pages.
Thank you, Jack, James, Bruce and Valerie, from me, and many other fellow travelers.