Thursday, August 6, 2009

Happy Endings are Best!

Portrait sessions are always exciting but sometimes there's even greater joy because of something special that happened meantime.

Ten-year-old Ellie Edwards came to the studio in April with her mother, Natasha; brother, Duke, 12; and sisters Amanda, 14; and Victoria, 15. It would have been the normal portrait session in every way except for one minor detail.

I had a special relationship with Ellie. Only two years ago, I had photographed her with other children for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, an organization that conducts tests at various clinics in hopes of finding treatments and cures for the devastating disease. At the time, it wasn't known exactly what direction little Ellie's health would go. Just having cancer is bad enough...but not knowing anything beyond that is even worse.

I was overjoyed when Ellie came to the studio to have a portrait taken with the rest of her family. The sparce head of hair I remembered her with had given way to a full head of long, beautiful hair and she was bubbling with joy in the present and hope for the future. Her treatments had been successful. Each year I take photographs of those children, I wonder about them and their future. This time I got to see firsthand.

Ellie's mom had purchased a gift certificate to my studio at the Fashion Funds the Cure fundraiser for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation at Saks Fifth Avenue some months ago. She had come to the studio to redeem it. The session was so special, to see how Ellie connected with her see her celebrating her recovery.

Portraiture of the type I do for the Foundation requires me to stay in the present. I try not to ever focus on the illness but on the people...the children. For them, being photographed is a break from the routine, the treatments, the occasional pain, etc., and a time I try to make into an extraordinary experience for them.

The great thing is their experience is recorded for posterity. This time I came away from my work with more than just exposures in my camera, more than just wall portraits. The experience gave me the great feeling that perhaps photography plays as important a part in the healing process as medicine and therapy. It may sound strange to some but I truly think it does.
The sense the children get that they are important, that being in front of the camera is at that time the most important place to be in the world...that's got to have an affect on them. The relationship of subject, photographer and camera is one that cannot be replicated in any medical clinic anywhere in the world.

Ellie, stay well and come back soon! You've come a long way!

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