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Down syndrome awareness campaign becomes international success

‘The more we know about each other in this world, the better people we become,’ said Hillary Gauld-Camilleri

Pictures get better with age. This is the philosophy behind the local photographer, Hillary Gauld-Camilleri's, One for the Wall studio experience.

"When I take a photo, I see its value 10 to 20 years from now," she said. 

She's been a photographer for over a decade now but can't remember a period when she wasn't "preoccupied with the passage of time." One for the Wall was built on a passion for storytelling and advocacy, leading her to become the photographer for awareness campaigns like "Who We Are," showcasing touching photos of local people with Down syndrome.

Six years ago, she began working with the Waterloo Region Down Syndrome Society (WRDSS) as part of her "social change through photography" ambition.

Her closest friend has a son with Down syndrome: Caleb. He became her inspiration to co-create the WRDSS awareness campaign, which would eventually become an annual calendar fundraiser and advocacy piece. Her goal when photographing people with Down syndrome is for them to "feel seen and valued."

"I know from the messages we have received that we have shifted people's perspectives," she said. "I have been contacted by four international photographers looking for advice on how to start their projects and how best to photograph people with Down syndrome. My answer is simple: listen to people, connect with their hearts and watch what they do. The moment lies between these three things."

"There have been many touching moments," she adds, both with parents and children with Down syndrome. She recalls a special interaction with a child named Megan, who has been a part of the project many times. "She looked at me during our shoot and told me I was beautiful. In a world where we often don't feel that way, she reminded me of what beauty really is."

Gauld-Camilleri took home the Rogers K-W Oktoberfest Woman of the Year, in the Arts category, in 2018. She has also received Photographer of the Year by the National Association of Professional Child Photographers (NAPCP). As a result, her work appeared on a Times Square billboard in New York City.

"Photographs have the power to drive social change and create new attitudes – to break down stereotypes, as well as to inform and educate," she said. Her goal is to stop the mindless scrolling through filtered images in social media feeds, see beyond the assumptions we make, question preconceived thinking, and challenge our thoughts and ideas around people with Down syndrome.

"As a photographer, I believe it is a part of my job to use the skills and platform I have, both positively and productively."

The value of finding and holding onto a talented and passionate team "is crucial to a project's success," she said. She admits that she couldn't accomplish this on her own -- it's a team effort. "We all play to our strengths to bring the project to life every year. It's at least a 10-person mission, and I am so proud of the work we have done."

Gauld-Camilleri is also the talent behind the powerful images of "She is your Neighbour," the annual Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region movement. "They contacted me to work on their campaign because of my work with the WRDSS. 

 "I believe photography is stronger when we connect to something beyond just snapping a picture," she added.

November 1-7 is Canadian Down Syndrome Week. According to the WRDSS website, Down Syndrome is the most common genetic disorder, occurring once in 800 births. "Supporting this initiative by purchasing a calendar is always appreciated," said Gauld-Camilleri. When you buy a calendar, you support local events, programs and camps for those with Down syndrome. Order your 2021 "Who We Are" calendar here.

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