Larger than Life: Autistic Youth Bring Detailed, Deceptive Photographs to Spokane Gallery Exhibit

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Anthony Schmidt, a 14-year-old Woodinville resident with autism, captures stunning images of model cars against detailed backgrounds. A Spokane gallery exhibits his work.

His images and techniques, using an iPhone, make the smaller vehicles appear larger than life – or like true counterparts – parked in interesting spaces.

Anthony uses parts from his collection of 2,600 model cars, some purchased and some donated to him by fans. They include antique replicas as well as modern vehicles. The iPhone’s tools help with the life-size look, but it takes care of the staging and creating backgrounds. He has a natural talent for using perspective, scale and light.

Through April, the Kolva-Sullivan Gallery at 115 S. Adams St. in downtown Spokane is exhibiting the collection of his photographs to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month. Anthony has always been in cars, so it was only natural for them to become focal points, his mother Ramona Schmidt said.

“It’s pretty common for kids with autism to have a particular interest, and his was cars,” she said. “It was only natural that he started collecting models, then around the age of 6, he started taking photos with a mobile phone. He was so excited to see what they looked like when he took pictures of them outside.

Schmidt now has commercial success by selling calendars with the pictures each year, as well as a book. Additionally, the teenager has a lot of attention online, including over 38,000 Instagram followers and 528,000 TikTok followers.

In Spokane for the gallery’s April 1 opening, Schmidt said he received an outpouring of support. She shared a Facebook post about the Historic Davenport’s homecoming, when an employee struck up a conversation. He had heard of Anthony and handed the teen a model truck he had painted himself.

“He said, ‘I’m also on the autism spectrum and I love cars. My 1977 Ford LTD is parked outside,” Schmidt said. “After standing there for a while admiring the little car, we all got out to take a look at his real car. He then showed Anthony pictures of all the classic cars he’s ever owned, how he had worked in car detailing, and how his autism helped him in his job due to his attention to detail.

Anthony’s new friend in Spokane also told him about growing up in a time when they didn’t know much about autism. The two quickly bonded over cars, she said.

Then on April 2, Apple CEO Tim Cook took to Twitter to highlight Anthony’s talents as an iPhone photographer on World Autism Awareness Day, while April is Autism Acceptance Month. Cook tweeted about how Anthony’s creativity shines through in model car photography.

According to the Autism Society, autism spectrum disorder is a complex and lifelong developmental condition that typically begins in early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. It is defined by a certain set of behaviors and often referred to as “spectral affection” which affects people differently and to varying degrees.

Anthony was diagnosed with autism when he was 7 years old, although the signs appeared much earlier. It’s not uncommon to have a late diagnosis because the signs are often subtle when children are very young, her mother said.

“He’s a very determined guy with lots of dreams and ambitions,” she said. “He has many challenges – probably a list too long to mention – the most impacting on his daily life are sensory issues. You will see him wearing earmuffs most of the time due to his sensitivity to sound and this called misophonia, an extreme hatred of certain sounds.

The artwork with miniatures is an escape and helps her cope, she said. People often ask him why mention autism in connection with Anthony’s photograph?

“To that I say, ‘To not mention that he has autism would be extremely dismissive of what he went through to get to where he is today and what he still goes through on a daily basis,'” Schmidt said.

“It’s also dismissive of the hidden talents that sometimes come with autism. I’ve seen how his obsession with cars started and why it started. I can definitely say he wouldn’t be doing this if he there was no autism. If we didn’t mention autism, it would be in a way to admit that he has something to be ashamed of having a diagnosis.

She started posting some of her photos on social media when Anthony was 10 years old. As her photos gradually improved, replies to a post made her realize that many others were impressed, and it wasn’t just one parent’s enthusiasm. Requests have come in for a calendar.

The first year the calendars were made, when Anthony was 11, he sold a few hundred locally.

“People were mentioning that we should do a coffee table book, but how do you do that, I wondered?” she says. “It’s not easy to break into publishing, so we launched a Kickstarter to fund the self-publishing of his first book.

“The Kickstarter was a success, and we raised $45,000 to go directly to creating his first book, ‘Small Cars, Big Inspiration.’ It has since sold over 3,000 copies.We are currently working on Book #2 and are still producing an annual calendar.

She said Anthony loved all the attention from social media followers, but doing media interviews is difficult.

To view the Spokane collection of Anthony’s photographs, viewings are by appointment throughout this month by calling the Kolva-Sullivan Gallery at (509) 458-5517. The exhibition ends on April 29, with a public closing event from 5 to 8 p.m.

Anthony’s work can also be seen at anthonyryanschmidt.com and via an Anthony Schmidt Photography Facebook page. From the Spokane gallery exhibit, Anthony will receive 80% of sales, with the remaining 20% ​​expected to be donated to an organization that supports people with autism.

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