Mother’s Day weekend I got to capture a beautiful family in a beautiful place. It made for a beautiful morning! Well, it was beautiful once the Doolans were there. Before that I was scouting the place and not one, not even two, but three garter snakes came out to visit me on the path. I was not excited about that and was somewhat frozen but managed to snap a picture with my phone. I’m not even sure why I took the picture because just looking at it gives me shivers.
Anyway, back to this beautiful family. I have been lucky enough to have Isis in my preschool classroom this year. She is stinkin’ adorable and so funny. I learned a bit about Isis’ family during their home visit and at conferences. Isis and her older brother, Rowan, both have special needs. Rowan was diagnosed at 2 years old on the Autism Spectrum with a diagnosis of PDD-NOS; Pervasive Developmental Delay-not otherwise specified, and ADHD. Isis has Sensory Processing Disorder as well as behavioral problems due to pre-birth trauma.
Why does that bit of info matter? Well, I happened to be talking to a dear (out of state) friend who has a child with autism. She talked about the fact that she was afraid to hire a photographer to photograph her son. She was concerned about how the photographer would react if he started to tic, or perseverate, or be his quirky self. She didn’t want to make a photographer uncomfortable, she didn’t want someone who would press her son to be posed or push him over the edge into a puddle of a meltdown. It broke.my.momma.heart. Seriously, I know how much I treasure the photographs that we have taken each year. They are of who our family is at that moment and I love them, even if my kids are being goofy—it’s who they are and I want to remember that. So, when Shannon came in to drop Isis off at school a couple days later, I asked to photograph them. It started with, “Um…I hope this isn’t weird….” I went on to explain about my friend and that every family should have photos of themselves just being a family. She agreed! Phew! I was a little nervous; I mean it is a little random.
I met the family at Wood Lake Nature Center, a place where they visit a lot (read: the kids are in their element). Isis didn’t even flinch when she saw me out of the school context. For the first part of the walk, I really only saw the back of Isis since she was running so far ahead of us and enjoying the gorgeous day. The photos I took of her surprised me and her parents. She is stunning. I mean, of course you can see she is a cute kid, there is no denying that. However, on film (okay, technically not film but you know what I mean), she is simply stunning. I believe they could pad that college fund with some modeling gigs if they so desired.
When we got the nature center, Rowan instantly started telling and showing me all about prehistoric men, how they sounded, how they moved and pounded their chest. He even acted out how an animal might sound after it was speared. He was so excited and having so much fun with it. I felt so good that he trusted me enough to teach me about his favorite things. During our time together he also sang opera and rocked out. I told him not to forget me when he’s famous.
I noticed, at the very beginning of Rowan’s show and tell, that his mom nervously laughed and I let Peter and Shannon know that nothing fazed me. All I could think of in that moment was my friend and showing them that any behavior the kiddos threw at me, I could roll with. With that said, the kiddos were great. They played and ran and fought (hey, they’re siblings right?) and when I sensed they were “done”, we were done. Well, except one last family photo that turned out to be my favorite. It’s hard for me to explain how I worked with the kids because, quite frankly, it’s second nature to me so I’ll let Peter and Shannon give their opinion:
“At first we couldn’t believe that Jennifer had offered to do a photo session for us. We only knew her as Isis’ pre-school teacher. We were cautiously optimistic about doing it, and a little nervous after previous encounters with the “studio experience.” Jennifer put us at ease right away with a warm greeting and she immediately connected with our children. Her calm and loving demeanor let the kids know they were safe with her. Jennifer’s ability to allow herself to become part of the event, and not just a bystander, made everyone feel relaxed. We think it shows in the work. For us this turned out to be a truly enjoyable experience, and we feel blessed that we have these beautiful pictures to remind us of that day, and of that moment in our lives.”
Let me say, this photo session was as much for me as it was for this sweet family. Every family should have photos of themselves just being who they are…just being a family. My hope with this session, this post, is that if there is anyone reading who may be having the same fears as my friend, that they realize that there are photographers out there who are experienced with children outside of the photography setting; children with special needs or children who think outside the box.
When I asked Peter and Shannon if I could mention the special needs topic in this post, Peter responded, “Loud and proud.” I couldn’t help but smile about that response the whole way home. THAT is what I want families to believe when they are thinking of getting photos taken. That statement said to me, “This is who we are. We are an amazing family. We have awesome kids and we are blessed.”
Be You. Loud and Proud.