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“Just Kids” Now on Exhibit at GLASS Atlanta Talking Book Center

GPLS News, February 2017

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“Just Kids” Now on Exhibit at GLASS Atlanta Talking Book Center

ATLANTA - Georgia Libraries for Accessible Statewide Services (GLASS) this month unveiled its latest, and first photography-based, art exhibition. “Just Kids” began an open-ended run Feb. 8 at the GLASS Atlanta Talking Book Center on the fourth floor of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System’s Central Library at One Margaret Mitchell Square.

“Just Kids” is the brainchild of photographer Ryan Johnson, who is a community support specialist at the Center for Leadership in Disability (CLD), a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities located at Georgia State University. CLD serves as a bridge between university and community to support people with disabilities and their families in their journey toward a more inclusive and independent life.

Through his work with CLD, Johnson discovered his love for telling life stories through photography, mixing a documentary and portraiture style to give viewers a front-row seat to stories of families and their loved ones who have an intellectual or developmental disability.

“What strikes me about Ryan's work is how true these photos are,” said Elizabeth Labbe-Webb, principal of Blue Path Group, an Atlanta-based consultancy committed to bringing the work of talented artists to wider audiences and putting that work into places that invite conversation and learning.

“These are families, beyond anything else, but what also strikes me is how revelational these photos are to the folks who don't live with someone with a disability,” Labbe-Webb said of the new exhibit. “For many people, it's like they can only see, and may fear, the challenges involved. They can't conceive of the enjoyable times and love within these families. I believe Ryan’s work can help change that perception.”

Among the 18 portraits included in “Just Kids” are those depicting a handful of families that are members of the Chattahoochee Valley Down Syndrome Association. The association’s board vice president, Sheetul Wall, first approached Johnson at a CLD Community Advisory Council meeting last year to ask if he might be interested in putting together a dozen or so photos to be displayed at The Buddy Walk taking place on the Total System Services Inc. corporate campus in Columbus this past October.

“For the original exhibition, Sheetul and I decided to focus on the individuals and their siblings,” Johnson explained. “During my day with the families, all of the siblings impressed me. They were gracious, kind, gentle, and they have to wear many hats. So we went with that — while also wanting the images to be empowering for the families and individuals involved.”

That goal was met, with one parent telling Johnson “…there was one that made me cry. I felt like you captured our family, but you also captured me as a mother to my daughter and how I see my role in her life.” Said another parent: “So many people are scared to embrace the differences in people no matter what that difference is. So I just want to thank you for bringing it to the public eye and especially the academic eye.”

For “Just Kids,” the 13 images from Johnson’s original untitled exhibition have been supplemented by five new photographs for a total of 18.

GLASS director Pat Herndon is excited about hosting the exhibit due to both the moving subject matter and because “Just Kids” will be the first GLASS exhibit to subsequently tour the rest of the state.

“We are planning to exhibit at GLASS Atlanta for three to four months before sending it on a tour of other public libraries that could last for up to an additional 12 months,” she said. “We hope to begin that tour with the library systems that currently have or at one time have had a Talking Book library or outreach center. Those include libraries in Bainbridge, Augusta, Dublin, Macon and Columbus — where the exhibit first began.”

A division of Georgia Public Library Service, GLASS provides eligible Georgians with access to free audio materials and books and magazines in braille through the Library of Congress and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Every public library system in the state is a GLASS affiliate. GLASS Atlanta welcomes the public to view “Just Kids” from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with extended evening hours each Thursday until 8 p.m.

GLASS and GPLS’s strategic partnership programs are supported in part by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the Library Services and Technology Act.