About six months ago I volunteered for The Heart Gallery of America. It’s a “traveling photographic and audio exhibit created to find forever families for children in foster care.” I’d first heard of it a couple of years ago, and I knew I’d eventually sign up as a volunteer photographer. They don’t have a chapter in Ventura county, so it was suggested I sign up with the LA chapter. Only recently was I notified of an opportunity in my area, and it turned out to be within a mile of my house! So for the first time today I did a Heart Gallery portrait session.
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This shoot had me nervous. The child I was going to photograph was a fourteen year old girl. Severely disabled, wheelchair-bound, unable to speak, barely able to hold her head up…how was I going to do this? In what kind of environment would this be? Would there be any locations suitable for the portraits, or was it going to be a sterile institutional setting? Would she even look at the camera? All sorts of disastrous scenarios went through my head in the lead up to this shoot.
Turns out I was worrying too much. The little girl lived in a house with full-time care, along with three or four other girls who also had special needs. I got there during snack time, so I had a few minutes to set up my equipment. The house had a nice little backyard with a tree in it, which is where I took the portraits.
This little girl was definitely aware of me and her surroundings. She responded well when I spoke to her, although she didn’t smile. At one point I showed her the images on the back of the camera, and I didn’t think she really comprehended what she was seeing. But at the end, I asked if she wanted to see the pictures again…and I think she nodded. Definitely something changed in her eyes that told me she wanted to see them, so I showed her. And when I thought we were done, I started to set the camera down. Her gaze was locked on that camera as it moved away: she wasn’t done looking, that’s for sure! So I showed her a few more images.
It wasn’t a long shoot, but it was an intense way to start my relationship with the Heart Gallery. I had been so worried about screwing up or the session going badly, that I hadn’t prepared myself for the fact that I might be moved emotionally by it. But I definitely was. I’m still sorting through my emotional response to the shoot.
For privacy reasons, I can’t show you the images. Although I’m sure they’ll go up on the Heart Gallery LA website at some point. But I can at least show you one of the lighting set-up shots I made. 🙂