Sunday, January 13, 2002

Photographer puts diversity in focus


Mother and adoption advocate uses camera to capture non-traditional families

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Never let it be said that photographer Connie Springer hasn't set herself some plenty lofty goals:

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Connie Springer (center) is surrounded by her family: Zoe Kosztala, 6; Steve Kosztala; Jackson Kosztala, 8, and Renny Kosztala, 14. The children are adopted.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        “This is my brand of activism, to create an artistic product that fosters an air of tolerance for multicultural and minority issues. I prefer the term activist, but I think I'm more of an advocate.”

        No kidding. An advocate for families that adopt children of different cultures — international adoption she calls it. An advocate of families adopting biracial children. An advocate for same-sex partners adopting children of different races and cultures.

        The artistic project she's talking about is Our Families: A Celebration of Adoption, a 2002 datebook spiked with 24 crisp black and white photos of non-traditional families and quotes about their experiences.

        Including Ms. Springer's Hyde Park family, which is a husband named Steve Kosztala, a 14-year-old Korean son, 8-year-old Vietnamese son and 6-year old Vietnamese daughter.

        With the exception of her own family portrait, Ms. Springer took all the photos herself.

        The 52-year-old Ms. Springer has been shooting pictures since age 19. For the past 16 years, ever since moving here from Boston, she's been doing it professionally, although today she spends more time as a consultant.

        “My company (Larkspur Productions) is a photo-organizing concern that tries to bring order out of chaos. So many companies have wonderful and valuable photo collections documenting company history and employees' lives, but they're all stuck in shoe boxes and file drawers and that's where they stay because no one has time to organize them.”

        What she does is go in and weed out the poor-quality photos and duplicates, decide what photos to archive, sort negatives, prints and slides in plastic sleeves, group and label everything and then teach the company how to use the system.

        Must be doing it well, because her brochure lists 15 happy clients, including such giants as United Dairy Farmers, Kroger, United Way, Verdin Bell, Episcopal Retirement Homes and more.

        Andrew Skola, communications director of Elderhostel of Massachusetts, is one of the happy clients: “Our photo library was in a state of complete disarray. Connie coalesced our rather eclectic and idiosyncratic photo needs into one agreeable format ... and provided us with an easy-to-use, cleanly organized and accessible resource.”

        That's her job. Her passion is the family. “What I hope to do by photographing the families is help people develop an appreciation for differences and at the same time, build self-esteem in the children.

        “Children as well as adults need to see that there are many different combinations possible for forming a family. Developing tolerance for differences is rooted in familiarity and first-hand exposure to diversity.”

        Her plan seems to be working well enough with her own children: “They've been questioned, a lot, but to my knowledge never harassed. Sometimes they get annoyed, the whole family does, when people think something in our international makeup gives them the right to come up and be invasive. You know, nosy.

        “The thing that really annoys the kids is when people see them and just assume they're Chinese. It rankles them because we have gone to extraordinary lengths to make them aware of and appreciative of their nationality. It's always a blow to their ethnic pride when people assume that.

        “We want them to not only appreciate their differences, but to celebrate them.”

        Almost all the families in the book are Cincinnatians. “I found them through networking, I sent fliers to groups I knew such families belonged to. Some, I met by chance at parties.

        “The only time I hit a brick wall was with the gay couples. None in Cincinnati was willing to be photographed because they didn't feel they could be that open. So I had to fly to Boston for them.

        “But it seems like everyone I shot was positive about the project, even those who expressed doubts at first.”

        Positive attitudes. That's probably why the datebook is peppered with quotes like this one from adoptive mother Katie Rothfeld: “Sometimes I wish I could tell people they should save all the money they might spend on infertility treatment and use it for international adoption. It will bring the world together.”

        Infertility is exactly what brought Ms. Springer to international adoption: “It was a combination of infertility and the long, lengthy and sometimes restrictive road to domestic adoptions. We heard about certain Asian agencies that were open and welcoming of American parents, so that's the path we took.”

        And that's a good thing because “I crave variety. Sameness, homogeneity, repetitiveness are not my instincts.”

        Neither is sitting still. Our Families is Ms. Springer's second adoption project. The first, carried off with a grant from the city of Cincinnati, was called Adoption Project and ended up as a 1997 exhibit at WCET's art gallery.

        “It was all adoptive families. The goal was to chronicle other adoptive families, besides my own, and capture the joys and struggles that bind families together ... by focusing on the experiences of families formed through adoption.”

        Our Families costs $13.95 (a portion of proceeds goes to The Adoption Awareness Alliance) by e-mail from larkspur@fuse.net, or from a dozen or so local bookstores and gift shops, including Crazy Ladies, Blue Marble and Grailville.

       



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