Joe Myers wandered around the Tidal Basin on Wednesday, his Nikon point-and-shoot camera at the ready.
Tourists snapped family photos with a smattering of pink blossoms as a backdrop. Runners stopped for selfies with the Washington Monument towering behind them. Families tiptoed to the edge of the Tidal Basin for group shots in front of the water.
Myers searched for his own kind of beauty among the District’s iconic cherry blossoms. He took pictures of others taking pictures. He snapped shots of people in the crowd who caught his attention. He focused on what intrigued him — the shade of a particular blossom, a drooping branch.
Myers, 28, lives with autism, and he went to photograph the Tidal Basin on Wednesday with classmates from the InFocus Project, a program of Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children.
“Individuals with autism can better express themselves in photographs,” said Craig Pardini, a photographer who instructs the InFocus group. “Outings like this give them a chance to take pictures of how they see things.”
The organization, based in Montgomery County, is more than 30 years old and assists people with autism — from diagnosis through retirement from the workforce. It tries to help them find jobs and become involved in their communities.
InFocus, which started in 2008 with six adults, is a way to bring out the artistic abilities of people in the program. The group meets each week, and the participants’ favorite photos are sold on CSAAC’s Web site.
“It’s really good for me,” said Myers, who works as a receptionist for the organization. “Lots of friends come out here and take pictures. My favorite part is just walking around and enjoying myself.”
The artistic abilities of the class are making an impression on many eyes. Last year, Brian Depenbrock, 27, another student, took a photo on a cherry blossom outing that was sent to the president.
“I like taking pictures inside and outside,” Depenbrock said as he snapped shots at the Tidal Basin. “The trees outside, the pictures on the walls inside, or the plants around the building.”
Depenbrock has his own photographic style. On Wednesday, he took extreme closeups of the blossoms and dramatic shots of the Mall’s monuments and memorials. Others in the class focused on paddleboaters or cameramen filming interviews for local news stations.
This is the fourth year the class has visited downtown Washington to photograph the trees in bloom. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled to wrap up Sunday, and the festival parade is scheduled for Saturday.
As for the InFocus photographers, media outlets and photo fans have bought many images from CSAAC’s Web site. And throughout April, selected photos from the class will be on extended exhibit at the Universities at Shady Grove campus in Montgomery County.
“Craig really built a business,” said Ian M. Paregol, executive director of CSAAC. “He starting just teaching, but now they have a legitimate business to sell photos. Adults in the class do all the work.”
The students’ skills extend beyond taking photos. They choose their favorite images to be published. And members of the group critique one another, commenting on which photos they like and what could be done better. Before offering anything for sale, the class edits its work.
In March, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that one in 68 U.S. children has been identified with autism, a 30 percent increase in the incidence rate from two years ago.
Through their photos, Myers, Depenbrock and other members of the class offer insight into how they see the world.
“After a few years of the class, the photos help to deconstruct the perceptions and observations of the individuals,” Paregol said. “We really see things through their eyes.”