“Don't pursue a career in the Arts unless you love the Arts truly, madly, deeply. And do not have any delusions about what awaits you both in educational settings, and in the job market. …If you think you're gonna get a break because you have a disability, think again. …You better be the best you can be at what you do, and do not allow yourself to use your disability as an excuse NOT to work continually and consistently towards total professionalism and high standards of quality.”
-- Jaehn Clare, professional theatre artist, from "A Career as an Artist Ain't an Easy Row to Hoe," keynote address for The Art of Employment: Careers in the Arts for People with Disabilities on March 25 & 26, 2002 at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis MN.
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So I walked into Baron Hill's office. I gave him two of my business cards. ‘Here’s one for you, and here’s one for President Obama.’” Brandon Boas was taking the opportunity to promote his photography business on a visit to his Congressional Representative in Washington DC. And when he met Stedman Graham at a conference, he made sure Oprah got a business card too.
Described by those who know him as “a promotional expert,” Boas has been featured on Indianapolis’ WISH-TV news and on WQMIX radio in his home town of Columbus, Indiana. He is outgoing and he is ambitious. “Brandon is very motivated, to the next step, to the next step, to the next step…,” says Kay Boas of her 27-year-old son. In addition to his business cards, he markets his work via his website, showings at area events and businesses and, above all, word of mouth.
Boas’ approach is very much person to person. Last year’s television coverage was a direct consequence of introducing himself on a downtown street to the news cameraman who happened to be covering layoffs at the Cummins corporation. Boas has been able to form ties with several key people he’s met over the years, turning to them for help in reaching his artistic and business goals. “Those relationships tend to be really important because they just keep building on one another,” observes his mother.
He is fortunate to have parents who recognize the value of such connections. In addition to the staunch support of his Mom, other family members have been actively involved in Boas’ photography ventures. His father helps with computer tasks related to digital photography. His younger sister did her high school senior project on a marketing strategy for Boas. She put together a portfolio for him and even created his website.
Photographer Robert Anderson of Stillframes Photography and Design has been one of his most significant connections. Anderson has made prints for Boas and helped with professional advice on matters such as pricing work for sale. During a downtown Art Walk, Boas showed work at the Athlete’s Foot store owned by Amy Macy. Boas went to school with her.
Boas has several important allies at Developmental Services, Inc. (DSI) where he is a consumer. DSI employee Sharon White has been supporting his photography dream for several years. She describes a determined and self-directed young man: “I just take him to the desired locations and he decides what pictures to take.” Staff member Nate Smith went to high school with Boas, for whom he clearly has a respectful admiration. On their outings “[Brandon] likes to get books at the library about photography and about cameras.”
Boas is eager to learn as much as he can about the business, technical, and creative aspects of his craft, including digital editing and how to frame his prints. “If he sees something, he wants to figure out how it’s done,” observes friend Tom Harpring. Boas’ relationship with Harpring is typical of his ability to seize the opportunities presented by happy coincidences.
Harpring is Director of Communications at DSI and happens to be professional photographer. His office door is always open for Boas. “Brandon comes in with all kinds of questions and a desire to learn.” “Tom has been like a lifetime mentor,” relates Boas, who has never formally studied photography.
A Christmas present from his parents at age 10 got him started. “My first camera was a little Kodak. It was a bright yellow camera.” He got more serious about photography in high school. He was struck by some pictures of flowers and landscapes sent by a family friend from Ohio. “I think they were so beautiful!” “I thought to myself, if he can do this, I can do this too.”
When he entered a photo of a barn (pictured above) in the 4-H Fair, it was a turning point. Although the entry was disqualified because it was not supposed to be framed, “somebody saw it and they bought it.” Boas realized he could sell his pictures.
His preferred subjects include flowers, nature landscapes and, especially, old barns “’cause they might fall down one of these days and won’t be there.” Tom Harpring describes Boas as having “more patience than any photographer I know. He’s really good at getting the shot he wants.”
Most of Boas’ sales have been in conjunction with showings such as those at the Stillframes Gallery and the Iris Garden Gallery (Nashville, IN) as well as through word of mouth. People like to purchase his work as Christmas gifts. He has been a vendor at his local Art Walk, and for “Buddy Walks” (National Down Syndrome Society) in Evansville and New Albany, Indiana. His photo greeting cards can be found at the Columbus Visitors Center and at the Book Loft store in Nashville. Depending upon size and whether or not they are framed, his photos range from $10 to $75. He has done some senior portraits and submitted a few photos to the Columbus Republic on a freelance basis.
So far the proceeds from his sales have been sufficient to pay expenses associated with his photography, but not a significant source of income. An approach to Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation Services didn’t work out for him.
Boas is dedicated to advocating for people with disabilities and serving as a role model. “I was born with a disability, so I did my photography to show people with a disability what they can do.” Growing up he went to school alongside kids with and without disabilities. Boas recalls both students who made fun of him and those who readily came to his defense.
This year he spoke publicly at a local screening of the new documentary A Friend Indeed - The Bill Sackter Story. It was a very emotional experience for him. Boas explains that Bill “was kind of like me, but I was not in an institution. He started his own business too, a coffee shop.”
A representative of the Cummins Special Needs & Abilities Affinity Group, one of the event’s sponsors, was impressed by what Boas had to say. Soon after, they hired him to work mornings at the Cummins Child Development Center. He does cleaning there and serves snacks to the children.
Boas is a board member of several organizations, including The Arc of Bartholomew County, The Arc of Tomorrow, and his local Self-Advocates chapter. He’s also active with Self-Advocates of Indiana. Last year DSI recognized him with their Community Awareness Award.
Boas credits his achievements to “my Mom and my Dad believing in me, to make my hopes and my dreams come true.” Now, along with creating a book of his photography and opening a store, one of Boas’ major dreams is to start a wedding and portrait photo business. His father reminds him he doesn’t have the necessary (and expensive) equipment. Boas presses his case: “God created landscapes and God created people too. So that’s why I want to do people and weddings.” “Maybe when I retire, Kay Boas interjects, “because I can’t keep up with what he wants to do and work!”
Meanwhile, Boas is picking his friend Tom’s brain about artificial and studio lighting, asking questions about his flash. “Brandon’s got a keen interest and a talent to take pictures,” observes Harpring. “When you’re taking pictures of people it’s all about how you communicate and interact with them. Brandon’s got the personality and the amiable qualities.”