- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2012

Brian studied a tree, his face unmoving in concentration.

He brought a small camera to his eye. One press of a button, lush green leaves captured. The camera returned to his side.

Unlike the other amateur photographers crowding the Tidal Basin on Wednesday, Brian had his back to the billions of cherry blossoms blooming around him.

“I like bushes, plants, trees and flowers, you name it,” said Brian, 25. “There’s a lot of other stuff I like taking pictures of.”

He walked on, shoulders hunched and hands clasped, his light eyes searching for his next subject.

James, 35, enjoys his picture taking while on a field trip to see the cherry blossoms last week with Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children, based in Montgomery Village. The InFocus Project, which included staff member Dide Cimen, is a way for adults with autism to develop forms of self-expression and social skills while producing work that has been featured in art shows, given to donors and sold on an online store. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
James, 35, enjoys his picture taking while on a field trip to ... more >

Brian was one of four men who made the trip to the Tidal Basin with the InFocus Project, an initiative of the Montgomery County-based Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children.

The agency for more than 30 years has served children and adults living with autism. The InFocus Project is part of the agency’s supportive employment program and began three years ago when several of the adults “expressed an interest in the arts,” community services Executive Director Ian Paregol said.

And, just as important, the pictures produced through the project provide insight into the people who took them.

“We can see through their eyes what they find interesting. Photography is one of the only vehicles that can capture that,” Mr. Paregol said. “What we’ve found is we learn as much from them as they learn from us.”

With the help of Craig Pardini, a master photographer and director of facilities for the service agency, the young adults began their lessons simply learning how to hold and operate the camera, then moving on to composition, framing and manipulating color.

“Just because someone is autistic doesn’t mean they don’t have interests,” Mr. Paregol said.

Though an overcast sky Wednesday wasn’t ideal, Mr. Pardini said it was an opportunity for a Photoshop lesson.

“I figured it’s a teaching experience: How to make the sky … a little more blue,” he said with a laugh.

Judging by the proud smiles and enthusiastic shutter snaps issuing from the group of men, the less-than-perfect weather didn’t detract from the experience.

The men ranged in age, as well as interest and ability.

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