Slovenian photographer-psychologist Matej Peljhan helped a little boy diagnosed with muscular dystrophy do what he otherwise could not do in a playful series that’s tugged the hearts of many. In this exclusive interview with Matej, he talks about how the series began and how it has affected the little boy, Luka, and many others. [read our original post about this photo series]
Tell us the background to ‘The Little Prince’ series?
I am a clinical psychologist and I work at a center for education and rehabilitation dedicated to children with special needs. Luka is a 12 year boy with muscular dystrophy who visits a school in our center. He is physically very weak, but mentally is very creative and full of ideas. He can hold a fluomaster in his hand and loves to draw on small sheets of paper.
During one of our conversations he said he wanted to see photos of himself, where he would walk and do other things that he cannot do in real life. I could have used computer montage and Photoshop, but I found these too cheap and artificial. I wanted a simple yet humorous approach that touches the viewer emotionally, but doesn’t feel pathetic.
We found an appropriate room where I could stand about three meters above ground in order to be able to take the photos. We got the props we needed for the photographs and also had help from a physiotherapist. There were four shootings. Our experience was very pleasant, it wasn’t difficult, we had a lot of fun.
What was Luka’s reaction upon seeing the photos?
His first reaction was wow, he was surprised. He couldn’t describe his feelings, but in his eyes I could see happiness, joy, and gratitude. Later he was also very proud to have been a part of this, because the series became so successful.
How’s the feedback from the people who’ve seen the series? Any memorable moments from the fans of the series?
The response was enormous. The photographs spread over the internet and millions of people over the world saw them. I received many requests for the publications of photos, positive emails, and commentaries. Many parents of children with disabilities contacted me and told me they were touched and moved when they saw the photos.
I am especially happy that as a result of the series of photos, Luka was declared Name of the week on the Slovene national radio.
Please tell us more about your work in photographic therapy?
The digital photography opens a new perspective for using art in therapeutic work. Cameras are cheap and not complicated for handling. Sharing the photos by web is fast and easy, people receive positive feedback. They build positive self-esteem and meet new friends. Pictures can say more than a thousand words and speak universal language which people all over the world understand without needing translation. Because of that, I have founded together with my close friend ‘The Institute of photographic therapy’, where we offer workshops, educate others in the field of the photographic therapy, and publish professional articles.
How has psychology shaped you as a photographer?
My personal experience and my education and professional work of course play important roles in my photography. As a photographer, I don’t like clichés. Exaggerated repeating of the same motifs, shown in the same way all the time, kills creativity. I also dislike art that seems unique and original on the outside, but is empty on the inside and is incomprehensible.
In my photos, I like to use ordinary, everyday motifs, portrayed in a sincere way, and from my own perspective. When people comment on my photos, the comment I most enjoy hearing is: ‘Great, how simple! I can’t believe I haven’t thought of that before’. I wish for my photos to emotionally touch whoever observes them, to make them think. I don’t want them to be indifferent.
I want the observer to think about the perspective as well, not just my perspective, but theirs as well.