Photographer Randy Bacon promotes understanding one image at a time

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Missouri Life magazine.

Her face practically fills the frame. You can see every freckle—and the determination in her eyes.

She’s Abby, a twenty-two-year-old with Down syndrome who wishes servers wouldn’t offer her a kid’s menu. She’s a homecoming queen working at her old high school and dreaming of going to college and getting married. “I love my life!” she concludes in the narrative next to her photograph.

Abby’s portrait is one of nineteen in Springfield photographer Randy Bacon’s Just As I Am exhibit. Other close-ups beckon viewers to read their stories, too—and connect with their likes and dislikes, friends and pastimes, dreams and disappointments.

Randy Bacon captures the unique personality of everyone he photographs, including Abby, an outgoing young woman with Down Syndrome. Abby’s photograph and accompanying story were selected for the recent Just As I Am exhibit, sponsored by Down Syndrome Innovations of Kansas City and Down Syndrome Group of the Ozarks. Photo—Susan Atteberry Smith

Beside one of a laughing man named Liam, Randy shares his joy: “I want people to look at that and it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh—that’s the way I need to live.’

“I absolutely never, ever get tired of seeing it.”

Abby and Liam are among thousands showcased through 7 Billion Ones, the nonprofit Randy and artist Shannon Bacon, his former wife, started in 2015. Today, he and a team of eleven direct the organization, which celebrates the uniqueness of every human and tells individual stories through photography, video, and the written word.

The resulting exhibits are making their way to galleries around the state and cycle through Randy’s own studio in Springfield. An expansive collection of captivating photos and stories is on permanent display on the website.

Most of the often unseen and unheard subjects Randy seeks are happy to be photographed and share their stories because “all people, deep down, feel that they’re special,” he says. “They feel like their journey, their story, is there for a reason and a purpose.”

A National Alliance on Mental Illness project showcased the strength and vulnerability of those with mental health issues. Standing Together, sponsored by Springfield’s Harmony House shelter, celebrated domestic violence survivors.

Printed large, Randy’s portraits unveil individual dignity even as they reveal scars.

“I want the experience to stop you,” Randy says, “because we are living in such a fast-paced, crazy world. It stops you in your tracks, and then you get up to the photo and you get closer and closer and the next thing you know, this person’s right there. I feel that person and magically, I feel like they feel me, that they’re reaching out to me, even though I’m just viewing a photograph.”

The nearly life-size photo of a domestic violence survivor wearing carefully applied makeup and a nice dress conveys sadness with strength. The tender embrace of the homeless couple Will and Hailey in The Road I Call Home exhibit softens their tough-looking tattoos.

Down Syndrome Group of the Ozarks Executive Director Scott Kirby says Randy raises awareness about issues by using his unique gift.

“He’s able to capture the emotion, kind of the raw individual, and so it just makes it that much more special for groups like ours because he can show the pictures but also tell the stories,” Scott says.

Abby, Grace, and Sydney show that they are pros when it comes to striking a pose. Photo—Down Syndrome Innovations

For decades, Randy earned a living through family and high school senior portraits—something he still enjoys. But he wanted to do more.

“And in 2013, something in my gut said, ‘Well, Randy, if you’re serious about really using your abilities and your belief and your passions to help connect this world in some way, what are you going to do about it?’ “I started seeing my work more and more and more as a tool to connect people.”

Randy says, “there’s no going back” now—even if he doesn’t photograph and tell the stories of everyone in the world. His latest efforts will be on display in a literacy-themed exhibit running through May 28, and a behavioral health exhibit planned for June 3 through July 31, both hosted at the Randy Bacon Gallery in Springfield.

“I have discovered that we are so much more alike than we are different in so many ways. We all want to be loved, and we want to love, and we want to live a life of purpose, and we want to laugh and have joy, and we want to hopefully leave this world a better place.”

From left, CJ, Sydney, and Liam greeted visitors to the Just As I Am exhibit and shared their stories both in person and through photography. Sarah Maj, vice president of lifespan services for Down Syndrome Innovations, says, “It’s important to us that our community members have their own voice and that we learn from them whenever possible. This exhibit accomplishes that.” Photos—Down Syndrome Innovations

Explore more of the photographs and stories collected by 7 Billion Ones at, or visit the Randy Bacon Gallery, 209 W. Commercial Street, Springfield.