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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Larger than life: Youth with autism brings detailed photography that tricks the eye to Spokane gallery show

Anthony Schmidt, a 14-year-old Woodinville resident with autism, captures stunning images of model cars against detailed backdrops. A Spokane gallery is showing his work.

His pictures and techniques, using an iPhone, make the small vehicles appear larger than life – or like real counterparts – parked in interesting spaces.

Anthony uses pieces from his collection of 2,600 model cars, some purchased and others given to him by fans. They include replicas of antiques as well as modern vehicles. The iPhone tools help in the life-size look, but he puts in the work staging and creating backgrounds. He has a natural talent using perspective, scale and light.

Through April, the Kolva-Sullivan Gallery at 115 S. Adams St. in downtown Spokane is displaying the collection of his photographs in celebration of Autism Acceptance Month. Anthony always has been into cars, so it was natural for them to become focal points, said his mother Ramona Schmidt.

“It’s quite common for kids on the autism spectrum to have a special interest, and his was cars,” she said. “It was only natural that he started collecting models, and then at around age 6, he began to take photos using a cellphone. He was so excited to see how they looked real when he took photos of them outside.”

Schmidt now has commercial success selling calendars each year with the images, along with a book. Additionally, the teen has plenty of online attention, including more than 38,000 Instagram followers and 528,000 TikTok followers.

In Spokane for the April 1 gallery opening, Schmidt said they received an outpouring of support. She shared a Facebook post about returning to the Historic Davenport’s foyer, when an employee struck up a conversation. He’d heard about Anthony and handed the teen a model truck he’d painted himself.

“He said, ‘I’m actually on the autism spectrum, too, and I love cars. My 1977 Ford LTD is parked outside,’ ” Schmidt said. “After we stood there for a moment admiring the small car, we all walked outside to peek at his real car. He went on to show Anthony pictures of all the classic cars he has ever owned, how he had worked in car detailing and how his autism helped him in his work because of his attention to detail.”

Anthony’s new Spokane friend also talked to him about growing up in a time they didn’t know much about autism. The two quickly bonded over cars, she said.

Then on April 2, Apple CEO Tim Cook used Twitter to remark on Anthony’s talents as an iPhone photographer in marking World Autism Awareness Day, while April is Autism Acceptance Month. Cook tweeted about how Anthony’s creativity shines through in photographing model cars.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex, lifelong developmental condition that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships and self-regulation, says the Autism Society. It is defined by a certain set of behaviors and often referred to as a “spectrum condition” that affects people differently and to varying degrees.

Anthony was diagnosed with autism at age 7, although the signs appeared much earlier. That’s not uncommon to have a late diagnosis because the signs often are subtle when kids are very young, his mom said.

“He’s a very determined guy with a lot of dreams and ambitions,” she said. “He does experience a lot of challenges – probably too long a list to mention – the most impacting his daily life are sensory issues. You will see him wearing ear defenders most of the time due to sound sensitivity and what’s called misophonia, an extreme hatred of certain sounds.”

The artwork with miniatures is an escape and helps him cope, she said. People often ask her why mention autism in connection with Anthony’s photography?

“To that I say, ‘Not mentioning he’s autistic would be extremely dismissive to what he’s gone through to get where he is today and what he still goes through daily,’ ” Schmidt said.

“It also is dismissive of the hidden talents that sometimes come with autism. I’ve seen how his obsession with cars started and why it began. I can without a doubt say he wouldn’t be doing this if it hadn’t been for autism. If we didn’t mention autism, it would be in a way admitting he has something to be ashamed of having a diagnosis.”

She started posting some of his photos on social media when Anthony was 10. As his photos kept getting progressively better, responses to one post made her realize that many others were impressed, and it wasn’t just a parent’s enthusiasm. Requests came in for a calendar.

The first year that calendars were made, when Anthony was 11, he sold a few hundred of them locally.

“People were mentioning that we should make a coffee table book, but how do you do that, I wondered?” she said. “It’s not easy to break into publishing, so we started a Kickstarter to fund self-publishing his first book.

“The Kickstarter was a success, and we raised $45,000 to go directly to creating his first book, ‘Small Cars, Big Inspiration.’ Since then, he has sold over 3,000 copies. We are now working on book No. 2 and still coming out with a yearly calendar.”

She said Anthony likes all the attention from social media followers, but doing media interviews is difficult.

To see the Spokane collection of Anthony’s photographs, viewings are by appointment through this month by calling Kolva-Sullivan Gallery at (509) 458-5517. The display ends April 29, with a public closing event from 5-8 p.m.

Anthony’s work also can be seen at anthonyryanschmidt.com and via an Anthony Schmidt Photography Facebook page. From the Spokane gallery show, Anthony will receive 80% of sales, and the remaining 20% is scheduled to go to an organization that supports people with autism.

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