Sowmia Kamath was a photographer before she was a mother. As a portrait artist she loved controlling every detail of the frame: positioning a chin here, posing a hand there, smiling just a bit more. She has a streak of perfectionism in her and traditional portraiture allowed her to entertain that streak in a creative way.

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When she became a mother to her son Lochlan, she quickly realized her aspirations for “perfect” pictures would be nearly impossible to attain. Children like to move and wriggle and jump and spin and usually, they have no interest in stopping for the camera.

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Lochlan is no different. He loves splash pads and trampolines and his iPad. He is also on the severe end of the autistic spectrum. He is unable to follow directions. There is no posing him or moving him to an activity in prettier light. There is no asking him to smile and look at the camera. With him, Sowmia does not get to be the traditional portrait photographer in control of creating the perfect picture. She has to let go.

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And so armed with the fierce love that defines motherhood, Sowmia has learned to photograph Lochlan on his terms, in a way that is honest to her experience of him. She says he is tolerant of her camera, allowing her to capture him in his moments of intense concentration, quiet contemplation, heartbreaking sadness, pure joy, and everything in between. At the same time, she has become more flexible in her shooting style, anticipating those moments worth photographing rather than creating them.

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Somia’s images of Lochlan are not simply pictures of a boy. They are glimpse into the mind of a boy who experiences the world differently than most of us do. For a child with limited communication skills, her photographs act as his words: each frame a sentence that he might not be able to say in our language, translated by the one person who knows him best. By loosening her grip on perfection, she has allowed herself to create her most perfect work yet.

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Photography by Sowmia Kamath

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