When the San Francisco-based photographer Timothy Archibald began photographing son Elijah at age 5, his intentions didn’t extend beyond documentation. Elijah was socially withdrawn, fixated on things like mechanical objects and a ritual need for repetition. One day, Archibald snapped a few pictures to bring to behavioral specialists—Elijah was later diagnosed with autism.
But that first shoot would turn into a unique three-year collaboration between father and son. The results are edited into a series titled Echolilia—a term that describes the repetition of phrases, common among those with autism. Archibald’s photos capture Elijah’s repetitive rituals.
The series began with capturing habits that had driven Archibald crazy. “There were things that Elijah would do with his body, that I couldn’t get him to stop,” he says: teetering on the edge of the sofa, curling up inside a toy container, or lying on the lawn every day to listen to music.
Once he began shooting these moments, their roles shifted. “He didn’t like being the subject, but he liked participating,” Archibald says. When shown a photo of such behavior, the boy would suggest doing it in another way or another place—both of them were interested in the process.Looking together at the back of the camera, “we had this mutual sense of discovery,” Archibald says. “It took me out of the role of a dad, and taught me to accept his differences.”
Elijah, receiving positive rather than negative attention for his rituals, could share something special with his dad and has started taking his own photos.
Most of all, though, Echolilia is a document of a father and son creating their own visual language.
Archibald’s photos have appeared in Time_,_ Forbes_, and_ Smithsonian_. See more at timothyarchibald.com._
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