Valerie Lego and Robert Allen Coombs
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) - When you meet someone whose disability has confined them to a wheelchair you don't often think about what their dating life might be like.
A young Grand Rapids man wants to change the opinion that being a paraplegic means your intimate life is over.
And let's face it, it is not an easy topic to talk about, or maybe even one you want to think about, but 25-year-old Robert Andy Coombs is giving a voice to the disabled community through his gift of photography.
"My work basically revolves around beauty, whether it's natural beauty or things that aren't considered so beautiful," says Coombs.
Since middle school Coombs has been fascinated with photography. "I love manipulating the lighting and I love playing with colors and sometimes creating alternate universes."
But his dreams of becoming a famous photographer were put on hold in April 2009.
"I was training a double back flip on the trampoline and I opened up too early and came down and landed on my neck." Coombs was instantly paralyzed at the age of 21.
But he took what would be a devastating event for just about anyone and found the silver lining. "It's not a sad event. It's just kind of 'I'm still here and I'm rockin' it'."
Now he's using his camera lense, as a voice. "I think that people in my situation need to be a little more open."
And it's a bold one.
"Intimacy is a huge part of everyone's life. I get touched every day, but it's more of a medical touch. I never really get to have too much of the intimate touching."
And Coombs soon realized neither did many other members of his exclusive club. In fact, mainstream society has a pretty sterile view of people like him.
"I want to explain to the world that we're not just these asexual beings anymore. We still like to be touched and kissed and cuddled and all that good stuff."
It was the subject of his 2012 ArtPrize entry at the Fountain Street Church. Three of his friends participated in the photo essay which got a favorable reaction.
Coombs knows there are plenty who are offended by his photographs, but all he asks is that you try to look at the human element. "Just imagine their life if they were that person and how they wanted to be treated and how they would want people to view them."
Robert Allen Coombs is currently a student at Kendall College in Grand Rapids and has aspirations of shooting the cover of Vogue Magazine one day.
And he's not losing his passionate voice any time soon. This year his ArtPrize photo essay subject is about gender identity.