I’ve long been fascinated by albinism. It is a relatively uncommon disorder—estimated to affect approximately one person in 17,000—yet almost everyone is familiar with it. Perhaps you’ve heard tales from Africa, where albinism is persecuted for its relationship with witchcraft. Or maybe you’ve seen someone on the street, in the metro, in the park…
Regardless, the appearance of people with albinism is striking, and it is almost inevitable that society would react strongly to it. The combination of a distinctive appearance, poor vision, and dangerous level of photophobia inspired me to learn more about this condition and the people living with it.
Every human being, with or without albinism, endures challenges in life. Everyone is aware of his or her “imperfections,” and gradually we all find ways to deal with them. My desire is to show the beauty of albinism and also expose more of the public to the difficulties faced by those who have it.
Caitlin Sas was a finalist in the LensCulture Portrait Awards 2015, recognized for a single image from this series. We followed up with Sas to learn more about her albino project but also to ask her about portraiture in general. She offered some thoughts on our contemporary obsession with portrait-making (selfies) as well as some advice for other portrait-makers:
Today’s world seems to constantly strive for perfection, as if it were the most important thing. Millions of people take “selfies” every day in the hope that people will show their appreciation in the form of “likes,” “hearts,” or “comments.” Meanwhile, with my photography, I want to draw positive attention to a particular, often negatively perceived disease—albinism. I also want society to adopt, if briefly, a different look so that people can recognize how beauty often lies in imperfection. My fascination with the subtle elegance of the much-maligned albino community is an example of this.
If I had to offer just one piece of advice about creating a compelling project or photograph, it would be this: create your photo work so it is as personal as possible—draw from a place within yourself that is intimate, almost private, and distinctive.
Editors’ note: The 4th annual LensCulture Portrait Awards are now open for entries! Enter now for a chance to get your work in front of editors from Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, National Geographic and the rest of the world-class jury. There are also a host of other great awards. You can find out more about the competition on its Call for Entries.
If you enjoyed this series, you might like one of these previous features: Jeweled and Snow White, two portrait series that also celebrate the rare beauty of albinos; and Estonian Documents, a stirring series of portraits recording Estonian citizens 20 years after the Soviet Army left their country.