Hey everyone! With the end of the semester rapidly approaching, I’m sure we’re all feeling a little stressed – I know I am. So, this week, I wanted to share one of my new favorite artists with you!
Houston Vandergriff, known as downsandtowns on Instagram, is a photographer based in Knoxville, Tennessee. During his travels across 26 countries and 48 US states, he has taken amazing landscape photographs. Vandergriff has Down syndrome, so on top of his photography, he is also an advocate. He works for the nonprofit elskað, which aims to provide education about Down syndrome and support for families in Iceland, where Down syndrome is largely stigmatized.
Here are my favorite photographs of his:
Vandergriff’s photographs are amazing. I love the intense colors he captures and how each image has its own sense of liveliness. I particularly love the first two, which are from Iceland. The forms that the glaciers make feel like, if I were to look at them a second later, they would be completely different. The contrast between the glaciers and the clouds in the second one is striking – it suggests that the ice is as soft as the clouds, which is mesmerizing to the viewers.
Vandergriff just recently opened a shop where he sells print of his work. For every print he sells, he donates a pack of small note cards to a family with a baby who has Down syndrome. His does this to spark hope in those families who may not have previous experience with Down syndrome.
For so long, individuals with special needs and Down syndrome in particular have been underestimated. When my uncle was born with Down syndrome almost 60 years ago, he beat the odds given to him by learning sign language in order to communicate. He lived a life full of love and compassion, with passions just like anyone else. Today, I’m happy to say that this doesn’t seem like such a big accomplishment because we understand that disabilities like Down syndrome do not make someone less of a person. Society has become so much more inclusive, which allows Vandergriff to be a successful photographer on his own, not in spite of Down syndrome.
I think this is an important distinction: Vandergriff is an amazing photographer and he has Down syndrome. Both are parts of his identity, but one does not impact the other. I feel fortunate to live in a world where many will look at his photographs and admire them on their own. I hope to one day see a world where everyone thinks this way.
Remember to support artists of color, LGBTQ+ artists, and artists with special needs. The only way to break the stigma that has persisted in society for so long is to recognize said stigma and actively work against it. Art is an amazing tool to create change in the world, so let’s use it.