Interview with Bart Vulliamy
Autistic, self-taught photographic artist
1. Tell us a bit about yourself A resident of East Vancouver, Canada, I have had a lifelong struggle with anxiety disorders.
To some people I’m considered a Lomographer (the act of taking photographs without thinking, and ignoring the established rules of “good” photography). I use cheap plastic cameras (Holgas) as my main devices, and I bring them everywhere. I love the look of the lo-fi film distortion and imperfections in every shot I take. My influences include Roger Deakins for his cinematography, Ansel Adams for his landscapes and Andrei Tarkovsky for his dreamlike photography.
2. What awakened your interest in photography and when did that interest begin?
I started film photography in high school, where I took a photography class. Back then, my teacher called my photography “weird”.
I didn’t pick up another camera again until 2020 during the first Covid lockdown. I had been watching a lot of movies and was working graveyard shifts downtown when there was nobody working due to lockdown. Seeing a busy metropolis stopped in its tracks when it’s usually very busy was surreal. I knew that I had to capture these historical times.
3. Your photography is heavily focused on nature. Why?
I’ve always been very interested in nature documentaries and growing up in Vancouver I did and do a lot of hiking and nature exploration. That’s when I feel my best, when I’m out of the city and lost in nature. One of my goals is to visit as many National Parks as I can. Canada has so much to offer in terms of natural scenery and I want to explore and capture as much as possible.
4. Your disability: what is it and how has it impacted your daily life?
I am Autistic. Autism is a neurological processing difference that affects how we process, engage with, and experience the world around us.
Some common traits of autism include difficulty maintaining and starting relationships, difficulty expressing and recognizing thoughts and feelings, social isolation, and emotional dysregulation.
My autism impacts me daily. I rely on scripts, schedules, and all that stuff. It causes me to self isolate and because of my Autism, I have anxiety and Alexithymia (inability to navigate emotions/feelings). My photography has been a way for me to communicate, as verbal communication does not come naturally to me.
5. What do you hope people will learn from your work?
Photography for me is something I can’t not do. I bring my camera with me everywhere I go. I would do it regardless of money. I truly enjoy the whole process – from researching cameras and film stocks, experimenting, and exploring new and old places, and presenting and showing people my art. Now that I do not have the scrutiny and cookie-cutter judgement of school classes, I have found that the most important thing about photography is that it fulfills me first and foremost. Everything else is just a bonus.
I have had the opportunity to share my work through the Inclusion Art Show last year, and via zines and other exhibits in the past few months, and I have discovered that there are people out there who enjoy the photos I take and want to see more of them or display them and see them day after day. It was quite a mind-blowing experience.
Having difficulty with emotions myself, I know that there is no one human experience when it comes to feelings. I’d love for people looking at my work to feel something that resonates with them. But I also know that reactions to art to not have to always be profound – it can simply be a “oh, I like this photo”.
If it helps the viewers understand that yes, people with disabilities also have voices that should be listened to, then all the better.
6. What are some of the barriers you have faced as a person with an invisible disability? How did you overcome them?
Like for a lot of people with invisible disabilities, I have had to deal with the societal mentality of “if it’s not visible, then it’s not there”. Autism is still very much misunderstood and considered through the lens of the rhetoric that has been perpetrated by major organizations led by “carers” that did a lot of harm to the Autistic community. The stereotypes of “severely mentally disabled” Autistic people peddled by those organizations and the media are still prevalent today, which means that if an individual does not fit in that box, they are deemed able to adapt to society and do not have any specific needs.
As such, I find it hard to navigate life in a society that is very much ableist and does not understand – or try to understand – the spectrum that is neurodiversity, including Autism. I still feel the need to mask when out in public and it is quite taxing both mentally and physically.
Similarly, accommodations when it comes to schooling or work are still very difficult to obtain without jumping through hoops and going through complicated and lengthy administrative procedures, which can be overwhelming for people like me. I am glad that there are local organizations that can provide some support but there is still a significant need for disabled people to be considered by governmental agencies and for their needs to be considered.
I am trying to keep advocating for myself when it comes to school, work and my health, but it is A LOT. I still encounter barriers day in and day out – I do my best to go through them but, let’s be honest, some days, I do not have enough energy or mental space to deal with being taken seriously because, to outsiders “there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with [me]”
7. Share your observations about society as it relates to acceptance of people with invisible disabilities
It takes a lot to advocate against all the misconceptions surrounding Autism and neurodiversity. As with other marginalized groups, I feel like there is a lot of pressure put on us to teach others about the struggles we experience and what we think would help.
This can be even more taxing when not only this information is provided for free, but it is then ignored or brushed off as a one-off experience, and when there is a constant need for justification. I do not want to speak on behalf of other disabled people, and it is important to understand that no two people are the same experience when it comes to life with disability. I do however try to be open about my disability, when it is safe to do so – as it isn’t necessarily the case – and to educate those around me when I can
A lot of work is done by disabled individuals, mostly online. I would encourage people to educate themselves and look for relevant sources. The old school take on Autism is dated and does more harm than good. But there is a new wave of #ActuallyAutistic people, who put out content in various forms that should be listened to.
Finally, it is imperative that neurodivergent people be included in decision-making, especially in the fields of education, medicine and employment laws, as they are crucial to us.
8. What or who motivates you to continue to pursue your passion?
I do this first and foremost for myself. I enjoy the entire photography process and I love taking my camera and going for walks when I can. I have been able to re-discover the Lower Mainland by seeing it through the lens of my camera, and I’m looking forward to more exploration, both locally and Canada-wide, to keep learning and shooting.
Having a community of photographic artists like Arlin French, Anna Starr, Jason Kummerfeld (grainydays) and the Lomography community has also been a source of inspiration and support.
I am grateful for the support I’ve received from organizations like posAbilities (Inclusion Art Show) and Outsiders and Others, to help me bring my photography to people locally. I am also grateful for the support of people who have interacted with me and my photography or who have purchased prints.
If readers would like to see more, they can check out my Instagram and my website, where I put up a lot of my work and through which I can be reached.