An Attempt to Give to Those Affected by the Fires: Family Portrait Sessions

My heart has felt heavy for a while now. I've been struggling with feeling impotent in the wake of October's fires. I am stunned by the destruction which I slowly took in, over time, as I drove unavoidably into areas where the devastation is the worsts. The fires came close, but we were the lucky ones. Now, the last thing I want to do is forget about those still dealing with it, unable to move on like we have because they are in the thick of recovery. 

I have no spare money to donate other the than $5 here and there that I manage to put in fire relief jars at my local grocery stores. My time, as a full time mom, is sparse in regards to being able to dedicate it to volunteering in any capacity. But I do have one skill that might be of use, my photography. And I know that many lost some very treasured memories when they lost their photographs. I decided that maybe I could offer my services, free of charge, to those who lost everything in hopes of helping to rebuild a collection of treasured family images...or at the very least, make them feel a little bit special by aiming my camera in their direction for a brief moment in time.

It took some time, not sure how to get the word out. Finally, in conversation with a fellow mom at a toddler dance class, I learned her cousin was nine months pregnant and had lost everything. With heart racing (worried she'd think I was being too pushy) I gave her my card and said, please give this to your cousin if you think she might be interested in newborn photos when the time comes. A few weeks later, I was delighted to hear from Erin. She'd had her baby and would love a newborn photo shoot. We set a date a few weekends later- her newborn, Gwen, would be three weeks old.

Then I heard from a woman I hold dear to my heart, Hanna, the student midwife who was there for the birth of my first child. She ferried me through that intense experience with a calm certainty I will not ever forget. She also happened to be the reason I started up my photography business last year, when she remembered I had majored in photography and contacted me to see if I'd take pictures of her and Nate and their then brand new baby Abel. I did, and after that, just didn't stop, I kept taking pictures for people and started up my official business. So, when I heard from her again this year, wondering if they could book a shoot, I said yes! And then I remembered that I'd seen her post about the loss of their rental in Glen Ellen and all her precious photos and memorabelia of her mom. I knew those things she'd lost were priceless, but I could do some small thing and help her rebuild her photos starting from this point on.

So this was my wonderful past weekend: doing my art in service of those who have lost all. I am grateful to have been able to do something for them. My heart feels a little less laden.

S

PS, It's now the New Year and I've been holding off with this post in order to ad one more family's story and photos: Christine is a wonderful lady whom I met randomly a handful of time at playgrounds in our neighborhood where I'd take my kids and she hers. I later came to see her more often at my local barre studio where I workout and also do childcare and watch her son Brayden now and then. It was coming on Christmas and I got to talking to Christine at the studio, only to discover that she had recently moved from our neighborhood to Fountaingrove, where they promptly lost everything in the fires. When she found out I was a photographer she immediately said she wanted family photos for Christmas. I, of course said yes! but there would be no charge because it would be my honor to do this small service for them who have lost so much. 

Without further ado, here are the photo sessions!

Little Baby Gwen and Big Sister Gen

I wish I had taken a context shot to show you what you can do in a small space. When I arrived for the shoot Erin showed me to the window where she said they had some available space. Because they were temporarily living with her mom, they had a very full house. Unfortunately the light was not coming in the available window, but the sliding doors to the right had light pouring in. Perfect! We shoved their dining room table to the side, swept the floor and and I set up a little arrangement with the cloths, basket and flowers I'd brought. With creative use of my reflector to block the most intense light, a few clothes pins to pull the drapes in a way that they would not cast shadows, we were on our way. Gen, a sweet five year old, was anxious for me to be done with the baby shots so she could get in the shoot too. She lay on the limited floor space, unwilling to leave in case she missed something, so I sometimes had to crouch right over top of her while I angled for a shot of the very sleepy and compliant Gwen. It was fun to tease her and say "don't worry, I won't sit on you...well, maybe a little". A chair was the perfect perch from which to shoot some of the straight down shots. When it came time for Gen to join the shoot, she knew just what to do. The love these little girls have for each other already is very apparent. At the very end as I was snapping a few final shots (it's always so hard to stop when the subject matter is so cute), Grandma suggested I try saying "Genevieve" to the sleeping Gwen because she usually smiles at the sound of her sister's name. I tried it, and gosh darn if it didn't work! The last shot was of baby Gwen, on her side, eyes closed and grinning dreaming of her sister Gen!

Hanna, Nate & Abel

Driving up to this amazing location I felt relief for Hanna and Nate, knowing that at least they had a place to stay surrounded by the beauty of the countryside.

Unlike many of my shoots that take place an hour before sunset for optimal light, we'd agreed to a 9am shoot. I had half expected it to be overcast, but it turned out to be bright and sunny. The light was intense already. It definitely ruled out a lot of locations. I found a space under the shade of a beautiful oak. Not only did I get to take pics of this beautiful family, they had their new puppies there too! So much cuteness!!!

I kept the sun at their backs for the most part, having to let the background blow out to a large extent. It was to be a half hour shoot but I couldn't help but take a ton of photos. Abel has grown so much in the intervening year. What a treat to get to take their family photos again.

 

Christine, Steve, Brayden and Baby to Be!

I was really excited to do this shoot for Christine and her family. I absolutely adore Brayden, he is such a bright spirit and one of the most easy going kids I know, so I knew he would probably feel alright with me pointing my camera at him. And I was right, he seemed to really enjoy it. Christine said she couldn't believe he was actually looking and smiling at the camera. 

I couldn't quite believe that on top of having just moved...then lost their home in the fires...now struggling with insurance and renting a much smaller place, Christine is also pregnant. What a joyful thing but what a time! I was happy to spend some moments at the end of the shoot taking a few maternity shots as well so that they would have ample record of this time in their lives. 

The best part? Receiving their Christmas card in the mail with their happy smiling faces, using the photo I had taken. 

What a fabulous way to end the year!

S