What would you picture if you were asked to photograph something that makes you laugh, cry, something you love, something beautiful or something you can’t live without? Your images would undoubtedly speak volumes about your values, your personality and the people who matter to you most. Barrington portrait photographer, Thomas Balsamo, recently posed that challenge to 28 area special needs children in a contest called Express Yourself. With the help of special needs advocacy group, Barrington Area Special Voices, this project is the latest way Thomas has used his lens to both enlighten and empower.
For the Express Yourself Photo Contest, Thomas armed contestants with cameras, confidence and a few tricks of his trade. He paired them with local photography experts, encouraged them to explore and inspired them to share their feelings creatively.
He rewarded their work with prizes and praise. The project became the focus of his latest book and a brand new photography exhibit debuting in Barrington this week. And now here’s where we come in…
During the official exhibit opening this Friday night, January 13, Express Yourself photographers will be standing proudly by their works on display at the Barrington Area Library. We’re all invited to meet the young photographers, hear their stories, appreciate their art, request their autographs and shake hands with their mentor, Thomas Balsamo. With over four decades of experience behind the camera, he has a rare gift for capturing magnetic portraits that pull you closer and make you say, simply, “Wow!”
“I had great expectations from the beginning that they would deliver images that would surprise people. I know their capabilities and how intelligent they are and I knew they would come up with things that would be incredible. The images are amazing.” Without giving too much away, in this exhibit you’ll find photographic portrayals of siblings and pets, patriotism and nature, music and humor. Even produce takes center stage in one of my favorite photos depicting things that ‘make you cry’. “These kids are pretty intelligent. They see things from a different perspective than some of us and have so much to offer society. They just communicate different from the rest of us and, if you give them a chance, maybe you can learn something from them. You probably will.”
It’s a conviction Thomas holds so strongly, he made the kids’ exhibit the focus of his most recent book, Express Yourself, The World Through Their Eyes. It’s the latest in his series of published works for his media company, Books that Touch. “I studied my whole life to create images that are valuable and the valuable ones are the ones that create an impression on people’s hearts and minds. If I can hook my images up with a cause and if I can help a group of people then I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.” Express Yourself is the second book for Balsamo, a Barrington High School graduate with three sons of his own. In 2003, he published his first book of portraits, Souls, Beneath and Beyond Autism, a beautiful collection of images portraying individuals with autism along with the writings of Sharon Rosenbloom, a speech and language pathologist and parent of an autistic child.
Of both books, Thomas says, “I believe in the power of the image. And I believe I have a big responsibility to use it for doing good things….Express Yourself was my opportunity to inspire special people to begin the discovery process of finding and using their gifts, passions and talents to enhance their lives and the lives of others.” Thomas will be on hand to sign copies of Express Yourself, The World Through Their Eyes at this Friday’s exhibit opening, book signing and artists’ reception. It’s happening from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Barrington Area Library, 505 N. Northwest Highway. For more information, call the library at 847-382-1300 or visit their website at BarringtonAreaLibrary.org. You can read more about Thomas Balsamo’s projects at BooksThatTouch.com. You’ll find his photography website at PortraitsbyThomas.com. You’ll find a great local resource for kids with special needs on the Barrington Area Special Voices website at BASV.info. And to witness how Thomas Balsamo’s images stir emotion, you need look no further than this slideshow he created to become a true believer.