by Ryan Herz
March 8 –April 27, 2008
late summer through early fall of 1976, Ryan Herz’s
job was taking ID photos for the patients at a facility
for the developmental disabled. This gave him a unique
opportunity to document a fragment of humanity the public
at large rarely, if ever, sees. The resultant images
are of patients who cover the landscape from mental
retardation and severe autism to Down’s syndrome
and brain damage. It is important to know that, even
though some may look like adults, they are emotionally
and developmentally children.
click image for video
haunting, beautiful and ugly. One can't take your eyes
off the subjects. They
are extraordinary pictures, almost like classical fashion
photographs. The photographer so humanizes their pain."
for installation views
These never-before-seen portraits were completed in
three or four sessions. “I had just a few minutes
with each person,” Herz explains. “This
both forced me and freed me to be instinctual rather
than manipulative.” That spontaneity coupled with
the intense humanity and the unfiltered emotions of
the subjects gives the photographs their power.
Drkrm. gallery is proud to present this powerful and
important body of work. A portion of all sales will
benefit The UCLA Foundation Medical Genetics Division
Exhibition essay by David A. Hovda,
Professor, Division of Neurosurgery UCLA
gallery is an exhibition space dedicated to fine art and
documentary photography, cutting edge and alternative
photographic processes and the display and survey of popular
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Children of Edgewood
These images are of patients who have endured various
developmental disabilities. Many exhibit the anatomical
features of chromosomal damage. Others appear to have
sustained damage to the central nervous system. Still
others show the signs of genetic damage. The diagnoses
most likely cover the landscape of mental retardation,
sever autism, dystrophies, Down’s syndrome, inborn
errors in metabolism and/or brain damage pre or post
birth. As is typical, these children will survive, with
some living decades. They exhibit different degrees
of sensorimotor function with many having severe forms
of spasm and joint deformity. They all experience pain.
Conversely, they also experience pleasure and the excitement
of attention which is self evident in many of the photographs.
To what extent they have developed cognitively depends
upon their specific diagnosis. However, in most cases
they retain the ability to interact with their environment
and their loved ones. Most will deal with the sensations
and desires associated with puberty. The fact that they
sense their environment is not in question. However,
it is still unknown if they perceive the world around
them the same way as a normal unaffected person would.
Viewing these photographs reminded me of all we don’t
understand regarding the human brain. Looking at each
patient I felt the need to reach out to them not only
to provide comfort but also to let them know they were
not forgotten or abandoned. One cannot help but see
in their faces many of our own emotions. I myself wonder
what they feel in terms of dreams and aspirations. Do
they truly understand what lies ahead? Does it really
matter? The patients do not appear to exhibit hopelessness
but in a strange way curiosity and a desire to engage
with other people. How much of this reflects a person
locked up in a restricted brain/mind/body or an individual
that has just adapted, I can’t answer.
At least from the genetic perspective these patients
demonstrate how much can go wrong with only a one or
two chromosomal deviation from the norm . In one way
each patient brings to light their unique existences
with many looking at first hand like young adults. However,
after even a brief period of interactions, it is obvious
that as described many years ago they suffer from developmental
and not adult disabilities. Consequently, the normal
maturation of the central nervous system is restricted
it its ability to mature. Along with this are imposed
the limitations of growth and the prevention of attainment
of most of what makes up adulthood. When training those
that will care for them, it is important to instill
in them that although what they see is an adult, they
are dealing with a child.
As is evident from the individual photographs, these
“children” were physically well cared for,
especially given the era in which these pictures were
taken. Over the years the course of management has improved
however for many of these devastating medical problems
there is as yet still no cure. There has been a major
emphasis on genetic counseling for perspective parents
and advances in genetic screening. Seeing these photographs
I am overwhelmed with sorrow, sympathy and an appreciation
for the human spirit. I am once again challenged as
to what those of us in neuroscience research can do
and learn in order to make a difference.
David A. Hovda, Ph.D.
Professor, Division of Neurosurgery
EDGEWOOD TO DRKRM
IN 1976 I WAS GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO PHOTOGRAPH EDGEWOOD,
A HOME FOR DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED CHILDREN OF ALL AGES. THE
FACILITY NEEDED I.D. PHOTOS OF ITS PATIENTS. THE LOCAL SCHOOL
PHOTOGRAPHERS WERE THE LOGICAL CHOICE, BUT THEY WERE UNCOMFORTABLE
WITH THE SITUATION. I WAS THRILLED TO BE ASKED, AND JUMPED AT
THE CHANCE. I WAS GIVEN TOTAL ACCESS FROM BEFORE THANKSGIVING
TILL THE VALENTINE’S DAY DECORATIONS WERE BEING INSTALLED.
THE CHILDREN WERE ALWAYS OPEN, NEVER GUARDED, THEIR EMOTIONS
NEVER UNDER THE SURFACE. THE STAFF CONSISTED OF INDIVIDUALS
WHO, JUST BY DOING THEIR JOBS, MADE LIVES BETTER. BUT IT WAS
MORE THAN A JOB. THERE WAS A LOT OF LOVE INTERTWINED WITH MOMENTS
OF CHAOS. THE PORTRAITS COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MADE WITHOUT THEIR
I STARTED THE PROJECT BY TAKING THE TIME TO SHOOT 35MM AROUND
THE FACILITY. BY THE TIME WE DID THE PORTRAITS, I HAD GOTTEN
TO KNOW BOTH THE STAFF AND THE CHILDREN. THE CHILDREN WERE USED
TO SEEING ME WITH A CAMERA. I SET UP A SMALL STUDIO AND WE TOOK
THE PORTRAITS IN THREE OR FOUR SESSIONS. I WOULD DO THE COLOR
HEADSHOTS FIRST. THEN I WOULD SWITCH THE CAMERA’S BACK
TO BLACK AND WHITE AND TAKE A FEW MOMENTS TO MAKE TWO EXPOSURES
OF EACH CHILD. THE TIME RESTRAINTS BOTH FORCED ME AND FREED
ME TO BE INSTINCTIVE RATHER THAN MANIPULATIVE. THAT, COUPLED
WITH THE CHILDREN’S TOTAL LACK OF ARTIFICE, GIVES THE
PICTURES THEIR POWER. THEY SEEMED TO THRIVE ON THE ATTENTION
THAT BEING PHOTOGRAPHED PROVIDED. BUT THEN WHY SHOULDN’T
THEY? MOST CHILDREN FEEL THE SAME THING.
AFTER THE SESSIONS WERE DONE, AND THE I.D. S DELIVERED, I PROOFED
THE PORTRAITS AND TRIED PRINTING A FEW OF THEM. THE TIME WAS
TOO SOON AS I WAS TOO CLOSE TO THE EXPERIENCE. I PUT THEM AWAY.
A SIX MONTH CONVALESCENCE IN 2003 REMINDED ME THAT SOME OF THE
MOST SIGNIFICANT TIMES IN MY LIFE INVOLVED A CAMERA AND A SHUTTER
RELEASE. EVENTUALLY THAT LED ME TO THE BOX WHERE THE EDGEWOOD
NEGATIVES HAD SPENT THE LAST THIRTY YEARS. I PRINTED A FEW AND
KNEW THAT THE TIME WAS NOW.
PHOTOGRAPHY, FOR ME, HAS ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT MOMENTS OF TRANSCENDENCE.
IT’S ABOUT PUTTING YOURSELF, WITH A CAMERA, INTO SITUATIONS
THAT WHILE YOU CAN’T CONTROL, YOU CAN BE PREPARED TO RECOGNIZE.
THE 35MM PHOTOGRAPH “RAINBOW” WAS DONE IN ONE OF
THOSE SITUATIONS. I WAS WALKING DOWN A HALLWAY AND CAME UPON
AN OPEN DOOR. THE LIGHT WAS EXPLODING ALL AROUND THE ROOM. THE
LITTLE GIRL SAW ME AND ROSE TO HER KNEES. I TOOK SIX EXPOSURES
WHILE NOT MOVING AN INCH. THERE ARE MANY MOMENTS AT EDGEWOOD
THAT WILL NEVER LEAVE ME.
IT TOOK THE ENTHUSIASM AND UNDERSTANDING OF JOHN MATKOWSKY TO
MAKE THIS SHOW A REALITY. FROM THE FIRST TIME HE SAW THE IMAGES,
YOU COULD TELL HE KNEW HOW TO PRINT AND DISPLAY THEM. HIS EXTRAORDINARY
PATIENCE INVOLVED PRINTING THIRTY YEAR OLD NEGATIVES THAT HAD
BEEN THROUGH EVERYTHING FROM AN EARTHQUAKE TO TRAVELS IN A VW
MY MOMENTS AT EDGEWOOD ARE ON THE WALLS OF DRKRM.
Herz, March 2008