Photographer Hilary Gauld-Camilleri recently talked to The Observer about “Better With You,” her latest photo project for Ontario’s Waterloo Regional Down Syndrome. It honours children with Down syndrome and their families, while challenging stereotypes.
Q What is the “Better With You” photo project?
A This photo series featured 38 families of children with Down syndrome from Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, and Guelph, Ont. Throughout the summer and fall of last year, I spent approximately 30 minutes with each family in their home. I caught a small glimpse into their lives: playing on a swing, going on a wagon ride, walking a pet and participating in a running race, as well as giving and receiving hugs and kisses — the simple everyday things that we all do with our families. Nothing was planned. Their space, their family and their love was all I needed.
Q How did this project come about?
A After floating a few concepts for a third fundraising calendar for the Waterloo Regional Down Syndrome Society (WRDSS), I received an email from one of the moms who participated in last year’s project. She presented me with some challenging thoughts, and from this, I decided that it was time to see the families around these babies, children and adults (with Down syndrome). Who supports them? Who loves them? Who embraces them? . . . Many families feel that it’s important to challenge the negative perceptions that still exist in the medical community as well.
Q What message do you want people to take away from this project?
A I hope “Better With You” helps to change attitudes commonly presented around children and adults with Down syndrome. I hope it challenges you and those around you. A perfectly imperfect world is the one that I want to live in.
Q What motivates you to keep working with the WRDSS?
A I am currently working on ideas for a fourth project. I see wonderful things happening in our community and beyond with regard to showing the world just how incredible and valuable people with Down syndrome are. Each year, I receive personal messages from people telling me how they have been affected by the photos. I know that change is happening, so we must continue this important messaging.
Q How have these projects, families and kids changed you?
A I know that my life is better for having known these families and children. These children have shown me — and continue to show me — a level of love that is extraordinary. These families have shown me courage, unwavering strength and kindness. I stop and look at people longer as I go about my day. I feel more compassion for humans and appreciation for the human spirit. I have more understanding, and less judgement and fear.
Q Is there one moment or photo from “Better With You” that really made an impression on you?
A There are many photos that had an impact on me throughout the project. These are moments I tuck away into my heart and take home with me. For example, there was a photo of two siblings sitting on the stairs of their back deck. The brother looked at his sister, Chloe, and fixed her crooked glasses. This moment was so endearing and real. The care and concern for his sister was deeply touching.
Q You dedicated this project to a boy named Seamus. Can you tell us about him?
A Seamus’ mom, Katrina, was the mother who messaged me personally to present some of her thoughts around promoting my photos. It’s not always easy raising a child with Down syndrome. But it’s a life full of love, laughter and hugs.
Support the Waterloo Regional Down Syndrome Society by purchasing a calendar featuring Hilary Gauld-Camilleri’s images here.