February 19, 2015 | Posted by Judy Fidkowski
On an ordinary January morning, a group of photographers, make-up artists, and assistants arrived at Lurie Children’s Hospital for a four-hour photoshoot. Their models? Not the hospital’s doctors or administrators. No, today their subjects were far more important -- the children and families inside.
This photoshoot, like many others, was organized by Flashes of Hope. A self-described ‘army of volunteers’, Flashes of Hope connects professional photographers to children battling pediatric cancer. Their aim is simple: to use the power of photography and change how kids with cancer see themselves.
The Chicago branch of this national non-profit opened eight years ago. Their first order of business was working with ASMP to find trusted professionals for their photo projects.
“All ASMP photographers are automatically pre-qualified to volunteer with us,” says Barrie Dekker, founder of the Chicago chapter. “They really are the crème de la crème.”
For many ASMP members, getting involved with Flashes of Hope is a no-brainer. “My friends and I have this conversation a lot: how to make the world a better place through photography,” says Lee Balgemann, ASMP member and six-year volunteer. “When I first started, the experience was so amazing, I knew I had to sign up immediately.”y
Flashes of Hope photo sessions take Balgemann and other photographers to hospitals, summer camps, and special events around the area where they offer free portrait sessions to children and families. All told, the non-profit shoots about 7,000 kids a year.
“The families really need to capture these memories,” says Dekker. “Sometimes, sadly, it becomes the last picture they have of their child. And for the kids who make it through, they can look back on the photos and say, ‘Wow. I rocked that. I was beautiful, I was brave.’ These photos really capture them in a dignified way at that moment during treatment.”
But it’s not just the finished product families treasure. Often, the simple fun of the photoshoot itself provides much-needed relief during a challenging time. “When we’re on-site, we’re having a ball, laughing and all that stuff,” says Phil Weston, volunteer for the Wisconsin branch. “After all the ugly things the children may have gone through, they’re coming from chemo, they’re drowsy or overwhelmed. Then they get here and they’re surrounded by people and we just have so much fun.”
The rapport that develops between photographer and family leads to unexpectedly powerful moments. Weston describes photographing a girl who lost her hair to chemo. She came to the shoot wearing a wig. After a few minutes of talking and joking, he says, things became more comfortable. “After a while, you can say to her, ‘You know, it won’t always be like this. Your hair will come back. You might actually want to remember this time.’ And then they take their wig off to take a true portrait of the way they are at that moment. That’s their lives right there.”
These moments of connection are what stand out to ASMP volunteers. Memories of an unexpected smile from a tired child or the laugh of a bashful mother getting her make-up done for the first time offer glimpses of possibility for life beyond illness. For seasoned volunteers, these moments make everything worth it.
“I know some photographers don’t want to get involved. They say, ‘If they want me, they have to pay me,’” notes Judy Fidkowski, five-year Flashes of Hope volunteer. “But that’s not the point. We’re here photographing kids whose parents are scraping things together. These parents might not be able to afford even some photos at K-Mart, let alone by someone who really cares about what they’re doing. That’s what we do for Flashes of Hope.”
“Come give a little time once a year,” Fidkowski goes on. “Come touch base with people who need you, who need your talent. You get more out of it than you will imagine. You get so much more than you give.”
Balgemann agrees. “For a photographer who’s gotten so much from the industry and worked so hard to master his or her craft, I can’t think of a more powerful way to help others with their talent.”
These are a few photographers from our Chapter that participate in Flashes of Hope:
Roswell Park Make Up For Kids
When a child or teenager is diagnosed with cancer, trips to the hospital instantly become the new routine. Isolated from school, siblings and friends, it can be a challenge to find reasons to smile. Yet, children with cancer find a way.
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