Matt Milligan, of Bonita Springs, Fla., has a rare form of cerebral palsy, but it hasn't prevented him from becaoming a remarkable photographer.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But to truly understand, to truly appreciate these pictures, I ask that you allow me just a few words.
Matt Milligan, of Bonita Springs, Fla., is a remarkable photographer. Even for the inexperienced viewer, his pictures make connections - bridging the gaps between the past and the present; the bustling and the serene; the significant and the silent. Through his photographs, even the unqualified observer (like me for instance), can grasp the extraordinary ability he possesses and the artistic power with which he wields the tools of his trade. He finds beauty in things that we don’t even see.
And, although Matt Milligan is just 15 years old, believe me when I tell you he fully appreciates the natural gift he holds.
“My brother was about to graduate from airborne jump school in Fort Benning, Georgia,” Matt told me in an email conversation.
“And my parents had just bought a new digital camera to use at the graduation, so I asked if I could have their old Minolta 35mm. When we got the pictures developed, everyone said that I had taken better pictures then my parents!
"I started exhibiting at the Bonita Art League and people there really liked my work. I entered a piece for one of their gallery exhibits and got in. I have been in their gallery a few times since and have even won an honorable mention award. For me, every day I shoot is a gift.”
A gift that, at one point in his life, would have seemed impossible.
Matt was diagnosed with Ataxic Cerebral Palsy at age 2. Ataxic CP results from damage to the cerebellum, the brain's major center for balance and coordination, and is the rarest form of cerebral palsy.
Patients diagnosed with this condition tend to experience a disturbed and uncoordinated sense of balance and a problem with depth perception. And, because Ataxia involves the hands, it makes fine motor control activities, such as writing … or taking pictures … very, very difficult.
“Living with CP is a challenge,” Matt said. “But I think you can do anything you set your mind to.”
And he knows whereof he speaks. Told he would never walk, Matt ran a 15 mile race at age 9, a race he has run each year since. Diagnosed recently with a muscle condition that locks up the right side of his body when he walks, Matt still won’t miss a day of skateboarding or bike-riding or living the carefree lifestyle of any other fearless 15-year-old.
“I take a little longer with things such as brushing my teeth, buttoning my shirt or combing my hair - I wear ball caps a lot,” Matt said. “I walk flat footed and sometimes get a little embarrassed from drooling in public. But I don't care about these things. I rarely even give them a thought. Everyday life with Ataxic CP is not so bad. You just keep going.”
(Which is a bit of an understatement. Matt’s neurologist has called him the most successful patient that he has ever had.)
But it’s like this. Great results require great effort. Matt Milligan has known this from a very young age. Every photographer at every skill level has the capacity to become another Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz. But very few have the patience and the perseverance to do so.
In his short life, Matt Milligan has learned to push himself beyond the theoretical limits that others have set for him, and, in doing so, he has created a world for himself that others couldn’t see.
You see … it’s not the equipment you have that makes you great. It’s the experiences you share and the stories you see and the life you live. And, like every great photographer, Matt Milligan genuinely understands that the best picture that he will take is not the one he snaps today. It’s the one he takes tomorrow.
John Reilly is a graduate of Stonehill College and Notre Dame. He lives in Sharon, Mass., with his wife, daughter and son. You can follow him on Twitter at @jwreilly.