By Hope Ditto. It’s the morning after the Academy Awards, barely twelve hours after the last little golden Oscar statue was presented, and your eyes are still burning with images of what our society conventionally considers “beauty” . The Oscars are essentially a parade of broadly accepted beautiful people with beautiful hair and beautiful figures in beautiful clothing adorned with beautiful accessories and beautiful shoes. Between last night’s red carpet glam-fest, that certain day of the year devoted solely to love and beauty two weeks ago and the annual release of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue last week, you’re probably feeling like February’s dished out all the beauty you can handle in a measly 28 days. In reality, it isn’t beauty you’re fed up with — rather it’s the media’s perception of what should constitute beauty that has got you so fed up. So if you’re at your wit’s end with the notion that a toned bikini bod and/or a pair of really expensive shoes are the be all and end all when it comes to appearances, keep reading, because our February Man of the Month – photographer Rick Guidotti – has devoted his career to capturing beauty of a different sort. And we could find no better way to celebrate our favorite February holiday (my apologies to GW and Abe) – Rare Disease Day – than by honoring Rick’s work.

Rick Guidotti

Rick Guidotti began his career focusing, like most fashion and portraiture photographers, on capturing traditional beauty. Educated at New York’s School of Visual Arts and based in Manhattan, Guidotti enjoyed the glamorous life of a successful high fashion photographer – snapping shots of conventional beauties for clients like Yves Saint Laurent, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar in traditionally beautiful places like Milan, Paris and London.

But all of that changed in 1997, when Guidotti was drawn to focus his work on a different type of beauty – the “beauty of genetic diversity.” Seeking to gain attention for this beauty he had discovered, Guidotti joined forces with Diane McLean, MD, PhD, MPH and together, the pair founded Positive Exposure (PE) – “a nonprofit organization that challenges stigma associated with difference by pioneering a new vision of the beauty and richness of genetic diversity.” The organization “utilizes the visual arts to significantly impact the fields of genetics, mental health and human rights” by forging “cross-sector partnerships with health advocacy organizations, governmental agencies and educational institutions.” 

PE does not just display Rick’s photos, though. They sponsor a number of initiatives and programs aimed at concurrently capturing the beauty of those suffering from genetic conditions and educating the broader public about them.

Still, they’re known best for their flagship undertaking – the Spirit of Difference gallery, which is a collection of images and video interviews of people, particularly children, living with various genetic conditions. PE has an online version of the Spirit of Difference gallery that you can check out here.

That’s not all PE does to impact and improve the lives of those living with these conditions, though. The organization sponsors and puts on “Self-Esteem/Self-Advocacy photographic and interview workshops” and “diversity workshops” and conducts “portable, sustainable educational and human rights programs and multi media exhibitions for physicians, nurses, genetic counselors, health care professionals-in-training, universities, elementary and secondary schools, legislators and the general public” around the country and the world. Using the photos and video interviews that Rick has taken, presenters (oftentimes Rick himself) shed light on not only the beauty but the unique spirit of his subjects, helping people to look past the differences created by their conditions and see that special, indescribable quality that so captivated Rick some 14 years ago.

But don’t just take my word for it. Check out one of Rick’s presentations, entitled Beauty”.  I know I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the holiday than by checking it out! And, for more information about Positive Exposure and its undertakings, you can visit their website.

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