This year, one of my goals was to use photography to make a difference in the lives of others.  Soon after I started thinking about that goal, I was contacted by Flashes of Hope about photographing children at Camp Kemo.  Of course this was a no brainer and I quickly said I would be honored to participate.

Flashes of Hope is an organization that sends photographers to camps and hospitals to make beautiful black and white portraits of children with cancer.  Here is an excerpt from their website:

For too many families, the portrait is the last one they have of their child. Thousands of children are waiting for a cure while doctors are forced to use outdated and toxic treatments. Cancer is the leading disease killer of children yet childhood cancer receives only 4% of federal funding for research.

In 2009, we began funding research and have already raised millions of dollars through our Kick-program and other initiatives.

We honor the courage of children with cancer; capture a moment in time and fund research so they will have the chance to create a lifetime of memories.

Please visit their website to read more: http://www.flashesofhope.org/

My assignment was to photograph children (approximately 3rd-5th grade) at Camp Kemo, a weeklong summer camp sponsored by Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital for patients with cancer, ages 5-18 and their siblings.  I was asked to make a simple, black and white portrait of each child.  Usually I’m a little hesitant to photograph kids this age, because they typically give me a hard time about having their pictures taken.  However, all the kids were awesome and really made my job easy.

Doing a job like this really made me think about a few things.
1. Life is fragile.  Children are fragile… and breakable.  In many cases, there is absolutely nothing that can be done about disease.  It can be treated, and maybe reduced, but we don’t know enough to win against it completely.  Such a small group of cells that we cannot control can have such power over our life.  Ultimately we are much less in control of our life than we wish we were.

2. Cancer doesn’t discriminate.  Sometimes I think we get this stereotype of people with cancer.  You know, the senior citizens on their last leg of life… the chain smokers… etc.  What I realized here is that cancer might be more common at a later stage of life, but overall it doesn’t discriminate against age, race, social status, or anything else.  We are all humans and we are all fragile.

3.  We take life for granted.  This one was the biggest realization for me.  When we look at children, subconsciously we think that they have a long life ahead of them.  This isn’t always the case, and we don’t know how long anyone will live.  I have a daughter now, and I know that I have plans and hopes and dreams for her future.  In reality, I have no idea how long she or I will live on this earth.  The kids I photographed for the most part look like normal kids.  For most of these kids, nothing on the exterior says that they are sick (Camp Kemo is for cancer patients and their siblings, and even though some of these kids may NOT have cancer, I can only imagine that having a sibling with cancer would also be devastating for a child).  I wonder if some of their parents looked at them when they were 1 or 2 years old and had no idea what was coming, because everything looked normal.  I want to learn to cherish every moment with my child.  This was an experience that made me realize I MUST cherish every moment.  It also helped me realize that you really may have no idea what is going on in another person’s life by looking at them externally.

4.  Adults could stand to learn something from these children.  It all seems so sad and gloomy when you think about it… but that isn’t how these kids acted.  There was so much happiness, love, excitement, courage, and hope in these kids.  They weren’t concerned about dying or being sick… they were too busy living well.  At some point I think adults give up on this optimism, but I don’t exactly know why.  At what point in life do adults think the bad in their life outweighs the pure joy of living?  I know I learned something by watching these kids.  The little things that make my life “bad” really aren’t so bad at all.  Even when things DO get really bad, I still shouldn’t give up on living well!

5.  My job really is important.  I also take my job for granted sometime.  I just think about it like a job and don’t realize the impact it can have on peoples lives.  Photos are treasured possessions, and I may never know how much a person treasures a photo I give them.  I want to put myself in even more positions where I am helping people captured the most treasured moments of their lives, and helping them realize that life is an amazing, fragile opportunity that should never be taken for granted.

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