Rule Breakers: Ashly Stohl

“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule.

Rule Setter: Susan Burnstine, Columnist for Black + White Magazine (UK) & fine art photographer
Rule Breaker: Ashly Stohl

I never want to see another “clever” portrait of a child taken by a parent who sets out to document the lives of their children under the guise of being so called art, yet fails to deliver a deeper message or meaning. Here’s the deal… Not everyone achieves greatness like Sally Mann, Robin Schwartz or Rania Matar, yet countless parents insist on oversaturating us with images that ask viewers to take their child seriously because they’ve posed with forced meaningless, saccharine smiles, stared into the camera with empty, soulless eyes, stood insolent, with arms folded in defiance or frolicked about with inane props. 

But then there’s Ashly Stohl and her funny, heartwarming portraits of her third and youngest child, Charlie who takes great comfort wearing a Darth Vader helmet in public. Charlie is visually impaired and suffers from a condition called Ocular Albinism, which means that even with glasses, his vision is limited. But Charlie has bravely made lemons into lemonade by transforming his disadvantage into the ability to “see” the world in a totally unique way behind the guise of his alter ego Charth Vader. And Charth has a remarkable wit and persistence regarding his circumstances, which makes it impossible not to connect deeply with what it means to be a child struggling in a big world with little power.  

Perhaps what is most impressive in this unique collaboration between mother and son is that the images never become cliché or redundant as every moment captured is born from an honest, meaningful, and at times hilarious plight from Charlie’s alter ego. And it is his authenticity of spirit that opens this viewer’s heart to Charth Vader’s miraculous inner world—which is wondrous place I very much enjoy getting lost in. 
—Susan Burnstine