I recently had the privilege of volunteering to capture portraits of patients at Morristown Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. The event was sponsored by the Valerie Fund and Flashes of Hope. Maplewood, NJ-based Valerie Fund’s mission is to provide support for the comprehensive health care of children with cancer and blood disorders, while Flashes of Hope is a nonprofit organization that changes the way children with cancer and other life threatening illnesses see themselves through the gift of photography and raises money for pediatric cancer research. The portraits, taken by award-winning photographers, help children feel better about their changing appearance by celebrating it. For families of terminally ill children, it’s especially important to have a portrait that preserves forever the beauty, grace and dignity of their child.
I arrived early so I would have plenty of time to set up my studio which consists of a backdrop and four Dynalite Uni400s. I only really needed two, but the families were not told what to wear so I was sure some would show up dressed in white so I needed a way to lighten my backdrop in that situation. The Valerie Fund staff was very efficient. They had one of the large auditoriums reserved so we had plenty of space not only for my equipment, but for the hair stylist and make-up artist as well.
I was apprehensive about volunteering because I was not sure how I would be able to handle the emotional side of this project because these kids had life-threatening illnesses. This was made more difficult as the kids were all toddlers who should just be enjoying the beginning of their life with us.
Some of the kids were in obvious discomfort and others were just wondering why all these strange people were hovering all around them. Most would’ve been happier just playing with their toys. We had to make the kids comfortable and give them a sense that this was going to be the most fun they were going to have all day. I could not have done this alone. In fact, without the presence of my wife who is a registered nurse, an EMT and a GAIT volunteer, I am not sure I could’ve been successful that day. She was fantastic! She started playing and interacting with the kids as soon as they walked in the door then was busy rolling on the floor with the kids, blowing bubbles, dancing and all kinds of other silly antics to keep the kids engaged.
It was a special experience for me. I really do view photographs as historical documents that permanently preserves our time here on earth.