Being a photographer over the last six years has allowed me to meet and interact with people in a way I never would. Most of the time I’m the first person to smile and hug a bride and groom after they’re married and congratulate them, I’m the one who gets to witness the raw emotion of a couple’s first look before they are married. Sometimes I’m one of the first to hold a newborn, or laugh with a nine month pregnant woman as we try to get her in a comfortable pose. Sometimes newborns pee on me, sometimes they give me that smile their momma’s been dying to see for weeks. Sometimes I see senior boys roll their eyes at their mom but then carry her purse and props unprompted back to the car. Sometimes I see girls anxious to be beautiful in a way they already are and are totally unaware of. Sometimes I see dad’s nervous to interact with their grown daughters, and are encouraged by a reassuring squeeze or giggle. Sometimes when I’m shooting public events, a stranger grants my request for their image by shrinking themselves in discomfort, jumping into my space, or flipping me off. Sometimes I get yelled at. Sometimes I just stop what I’m doing and crack up with a total stranger. Sometimes I’ll hear him whisper to her “if you don’t loosen up and smile, I’m going to grab your butt in front of her.” Oh the laughter. I laugh so much with these people who are like weird, distant relatives, who were once strangers. I remember the first time I reached out to two strangers -a brother and sister- at a motorcycle festival and asked for their picture. I was so nervous I was sure I’d puke. They could tell I was shy and set me at ease immediately and began asking about my work and how they should pose for me. In hindsight after several years of doing this, they were the perfect subjects. No one’s ever obliged me in that way since. I’ve been scared, joyful, overwhelmed, excited, disappointed, uncomfortable, but I’ve never really been sad or torn. Most of the time people want to remember the good moments and so most of my experience in photography have been happy mile markers: Weddings, graduation, community festivals, concerts, job promotions or book deals, engagements, births.
So when I took pictures of a foster baby with her birth mom for fifteen minutes of their allotted hour during their weekly meetings, that changed for me. I witnessed the joy of unification and apparent brokenness. I saw love trying. I saw addiction burrowing in. I saw kisses and snuggles. I saw relational gaps that will take much time to heal. I saw hope and despair. It’s weird to just be the recorder sometimes. Sometimes I wish I was the fixer -the case worker, or the support group, or part of the solution. But in that moment, my part is to play is the rememberer. Sometimes it’s a heavy thing to have images burned in your brain like witnessing a beautiful woman struggling between her love for her daughter being pulled apart by her addiction.
I hope these images can do more than be a nice picture for this sweet baby that I’m totally nuts about and her birth mother. I hope they can draw them together, piece together a story that’s had a broken start, and remind her that she has a daughter that is worth fighting herself for. I hope.
Would you pray for this family, for this baby’s foster family, or for the foster family you might know? It’s hard to not take sides, it’s hard to love people wholly and it’s hard to let things change. It’s hard to love. The foster community is in a war for restoration. There are little hearts all over tonight that need peace. Would you pray with me for peace in our foster care community?