Brittany Greeson's photograph 'Kenth' got a Silver award in the Portrait category at the recent CPOY 70, and is a part of Brittany's award-winning Documentary project. Catching Photo of Yours (CPOY) is a new CPOY Blog feature that gives photographers a chance to share the emotional and technical aspects of making their award-winning photograph.
This image was taken when I was working on my final project at The Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus, Denmark in the Fall of 2014. A good friend of mine, Soren Degn, told me about an institution for the mentally handicapped called Solund. I instantly fell in love with the people there and the staff members. Kenth, however, caught my attention in a unique way and it was actually through the making of this photo that he did.
I originally began work on the story in an essay form on the entire institution. I had been documenting other people in their living areas. I was simply walking past his room with my camera and the second I ducked my head in to take a photo of him he ducked behind his bedroom wall. It was a matter of seconds. This photograph is of one of those first exchanges. That’s why it’s so important to me, it’s an authentic moment between us and reveals his original feelings toward me. Feelings that quickly faded away as time passed we were able to get closer. It taught me how important relationship building is and I soon realized the story of Solund resided in one person.
In working on this story, my goal was to show the depth of his character and the support network around him. Mentally around 18 months old, Kenth can’t speak for himself. So, I approached his caretakers, Solund’s administrative staff and Kenths parents to pursue the story. I wanted them to be 100 percent on board and never wanted to show them why it was I was doing this story. Sadly, there are a lot of instances that the mentally handicapped are portrayed in a kind of freakshow way. With Kenth, I wanted to do my best to show a sense of beauty that so many people see in him. I learned so much about the empathy of others, a form of empathy I respected and admired. I simultaneously became more interested in how the United States offers care to the mentally handicapped and hope to document those issues further. I think this story will always leave a huge impact on me as a photographer and shape the way I approach more sensitive topics.