As a pediatric nurse, photographer, and mother of a medically fragile child, I have learned to see beyond the diagnoses, apparatus, and scars to create beautiful images of my child.
Here are a few pointers I can pass along through my experiences photographing my daughter.
Keep it real.
When my daughter was at her worst, she had two giant tubes coming out of her stomach that were attached to a 200-pound machine. This kept her alive for 6 months in the hospital while awaiting a heart transplant. A feeding tube was on her face all of the time; this was her truth, and I photographed it accordingly.
We parents of fragile or special needs kids do see all the assistive devices. Don’t assume that they want these things hidden or removed in Photoshop. Always ask beforehand.
Offer to document scars or deformities.
One of my favorite photos of my daughter is of her chest, with her surgical scars and her g-tube. To my family, this image represents a story we lived through, and it reminds me of her strength. I want to show her one day just how proud of her scars she should be, because they make her who she is, and they represent the enormous fight she waged and won.
Children can be self-conscious about their battle wounds and anything else that makes them different. Taking the time to create something artistic, that shows them their deformity or scar in a frank and new way, can change the way they see themselves. It can remind them of how special they are, that it’s something to be proud of.
Obviously, talk to the parents beforehand; it could be it’s something they hadn’t considered before, and perhaps come to realize what such a photograph could mean to their child. I believe photography can be incredibly empowering for these kids, a reinforcement of their self-esteem. I’m not sure there’s a more rewarding experience for us as artists.
Set the tone for a positive experience.
Have a conversation with the parents and set up realistic expectations. Advance communication is hugely important for these sessions.
For kids with sensory issues, a quiet setting is probably best. If the child has endless energy, choose a park, somewhere they can run. If the child is wheelchair bound, discuss locations that are accessible for the child, but will still photograph well. Have the parents bring a favorite toy or blanket and play their favorite music.
Talk to the parents about how long you’ll realistically get with the child before they’re over it. Realize your session may be very short, or require more time than usual. Ask about the child’s interests and his favorite characters. Show him your camera before you start. These are all good for kids without disabilities, and they can make or break your session with kids who have special needs.
Realize that creating perfect poses or getting a child to look where you want or do what you ask may be impossible. Do the best you can. I guarantee the parents won’t be focused on the little things that may be wrong, but rather that you captured their child for who they are.
This article first appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Click Magazine. Order your print or digital copy from the Click & Company Store. Or better yet, get a 1-year subscription so you never miss an issue!