Eric’s Note: This following photo-essay is by William R. Reeves, a passionate photographer and Ph.D student who has many of his images exhibited and on permanent collection. His mentors include Eli Reed and Paolo Pellegin from Magnum Photos. Enjoy his soulful images and story below.
Trisomy 13 is a rare genetic disorder that kills 80% of its victims before they see their first birthday. Those that do survive are afflicted with a host of disorders ranging from the physical to mental.
Nathan Huf lived into his twenties, and at the time of his passing was the oldest known living male Trisomy 13 in the world. He was blind, had the intellect of an 8 month old child, and needed around the clock care from his mother Lillie. Despite all of this, he was unanimously voted Homecoming King of Granger High School, a school he never even attended.
I met Nathan shortly after beginning to learn photography, and almost immediately after deciding I wanted to be a documentary photographer. So on one of my first assignments for a small Texas paper (the Williamson County Sun) I found a young man who would ultimately teach me everything that I now know about photography. I was photographing the coronation of this handicapped young man, all the while astounded that a class of high school students would vote a disabled individual homecoming king, and unanimously no less. I needed to know what was so special about this boy and the next day called his mother to ask if I could follow her son as he lived his life. Lillie was the most amazing subject ever as she welcomed me openly to her family, and never once told me I could not photograph something. I warned her that I could be with her for some time, and I ended up making trips to her home, family events, the hospital, and Nathan’s school for almost two and a half years.
Very quickly I realized that what I was witnessing was less about this community and more about this boy and his mother. The story was quite clearly about a mother’s love, and a testament to its power. Lillie gladly sacrificed her life in order to care for the youngest of her six boys, and never once did I hear her complain. She would be honest in assessing the difficulty caring for Nathan required, but she never complained. She simply saw Nathan as a gift from God, and treated him as such.
I became quite close to Nathan and his mother over the course of this project, and was heartbroken when we lost Nathan. His funeral was attended by the majority of the town of Granger, to the point where one could only stand in the very back of the church in order to take part in the service.
Despite his passing, Nathan continues to inspire and help others. These images have been exhibited from Austin to Japan and have helped raise money for a variety of causes and charities. My hope is to one day publish a book of my work on Nathan in hopes of sending it to other mother’s of Trisomy children. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have a Trisomy child, but I hope that knowing you are not alone would help.
The title of this project, “A Mirror Will Suffice”, was pulled from the Erma Bombeck poem “The Special Mother”.
As for me, I am an Advertising PhD student at the University of Texas, and am mentored photographically by Paolo Pellegrin and Eli Reed of Magnum Photos. My photos are currently in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Worcester Art Museum, and the Harry Ransom Center. I am inspired by anything and everything, from great photographers to literature to cinema. Mostly I am inspired by life and what it means to be living in this time. My hope and dream is to be a documentary photographer whose images are used to both increase awareness of the issues we face, and directly benefit my subjects. My purpose as a photographer is to photograph the best and worst that society has to offer with the belief that man will strive for the best while taking action to correct the worst. Naïve? Perhaps, but that won’t stop me from trying!
More Images from “A Mirror Will Suffice”
Links to William R. Reeves
How did this photo-essay by William make you feel? Share your feelings and thoughts in the comments below!