Joe James has autism, ADHD, and is a self-taught photographer.
Not only does Joe take stunning photos, but he is a proud advocate for the autistic, ADHD, and wider neurodivergent community. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask Joe a few questions about his journey, his photography, and what he wants the world to know about autism…
Q) At age 32, you were diagnosed as autistic, what was that experience like and how was your life after that?
It was incredibly eye opening. I had suspected for a while before that, but it was great to have my autism confirmed. At first, I was really happy, but then I started thinking about the possibility that left undiagnosed, it had perhaps made my life harder.
I questioned myself a lot and even wondered if I really did fit the description of autism I kept seeing. It wasn’t until I started to accept that being autistic wasn’t a thing I had, but that it was part of who I was, that I really became comfortable and more positive about my new identity.
Q) How would you describe your life pre-diagnosis? How has your day-to-day changed since?
Before my life was full of confusion and self-hate. I really thought I was the problem, and always asked myself “why me?” It was a challenge to keep friends and I always fell out with work colleagues over communication difficulties.
After my discovery, I was able to understand myself and my brain for what it was—a differently evolved neurotype that struggles in certain environments but flourishes in others. I stopped thinking about myself as the problem and started realizing that what was happening wasn’t an autistic issue, it was an issue with opposite neurotypes not having a better understanding of how each of us communicates.
Q) Is there one thing you would tell someone diagnosed later in life?
Embrace your abilities, accept your disabilities and not feel bad about either. Find others like yourself with similar experiences and interests. Find your community.
Q) What inspired you to start taking photographs?
I started taking photos in 2018 to help with my depression and anxiety. It’s one of the only things that helps. I wanted something to hyper focus on that would get me out of the house and into the countryside where I knew I was at my happiest. I wanted to capture beauty in my camera and experience it over and over again once I got home. I certainly didn’t have any aspirations when I started and was shocked that I improved so quickly. Now I realise that it is because I’m autistic that I was able to teach myself, not despite being autistic.
Q) You say that photography is your mindfulness and purely for mental health? How so?
Travelling isn’t easy for me, but because I have a drive to take photographs—I push through the difficult moments and find strength I never knew I had. It’s taken me to places I never expected to go. I want people to feel inspired by my art and feel good about being different, but mostly I want people to feel calm and at peace.
Q) What’s your advice for someone who wants to get into photography or another hobby that they think will help them with their autism?
Well, we don’t need “help with our autism.” What we need help with is feeling like we belong and with not being treated badly by those who won’t accept us. Autism isn’t the problem, society and how we are viewed is.
Being autistic and being a photographer go together like bread and butter, it is a match made in heaven. I highly recommend it for anyone who has anxiety. Start with a phone camera and if you enjoy it, move up to a second hand DSLR and make sure you go places. You can’t be a landscape photographer from your back garden.
Q) Do you have any new projects coming out that we should keep an eye out for?
My main purpose in life is to spread understanding and acceptance for autistic and all neurodivergent people. I am an autism and ADHD specialist and speaker, and will be releasing a book that I co-authored in June called “The Autistic Experience.”
It is my life story alongside nearly seventy other autistic participants’ experiences to showcase how different we all are, yet how badly we are all treated. It’s powerfully moving and I’m very excited about showing the world who we really are. It will be released in the UK first, and on Amazon for download, then the US and hopefully Canada.
Q) What’s something you would like neurotypical people to know about autism?
Autism is part of evolution, it is supposed to exist. Please understand that by looking at it as an infliction it only hurts the overall community and prohibits us from reaching our full autistic potential.
To see more of James’s photos, visit joe-james-photography.picfair.com.
Jessie Forbes is the editorial assistant with the Canadian Abilities Foundation.