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21 Weeks: Family Documentary Photography

Kristy Wolfe Photography, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, Rett Syndrome, medical mom, caregiver story, I Was There Too

The stories of medical families are filled with both moments of pain and moments of joy. As a photographer, it is my goal to make documentary family photography accessible for all medical and palliative families. The 21 Weeks photography project tells the beautiful story of one resilient family through the eyes of a mother and daughter.

I originally met Melanie through a Facebook group for medical parents in the Bow Valley even before we officially moved to Canmore, Alberta. She and I connected a few times online and decided we needed to go for coffee. We immediately bonded over our love of photography and our shared experience as the primary caregiver and advocate for our medically complex kids. As you know if you’re a medical parent, relationships with people sharing similar experiences are incredibly important to feel supported.

At the same time that I was getting to know Melanie and her family I was also working with my photography mentor, Kristine Nyborg, and gearing up for her photography workshop, 21 Weeks. Here’s how Kristine explained 21 Weeks to Katie Jett Walls of Confluence Magazine

“I wanted to create a workshop that would show rather than tell the students how a photographic story is built. You get 21 assignments over 21 weeks, some photographic, some written, some observational and some to sequence your work. It’s like a blueprint to photographic storytelling.”

Kristine Nyborg

When I first broached the subject with Melanie of photographing her family for 21 Weeks, there was understandably a little hesitation. But Melanie has followed along as I’ve shared our family’s medical story and after discussing the idea with her husband, Gavin, she decided to give it a shot.

A rare disease mom describes what it is like to care for her daughter while walking in Canmore, Alberta.
A little talk therapy between two medical moms out for a walk.

Here’s what Melanie wrote on instagram after she saw images from our first time together, skating at the pond in Canmore, Alberta.

“Well friends I got lucky! All us medical mamas can use a little extra luck if you ask me! 🤗 A friend of mine, Kristy, is an amazing photographer and will be using Ella and I (with some appearances from the men, and some other awesome people in our lives) in her photo project. Since I’m often behind the camera or busy helping Ella, and since #Iwastheretoo I’m extra excited for these photos and this great opportunity for sharing our story. I hope you will enjoy them as I post some over the next #21weeks.

Please give @kristy.wolfe some love. Her photography blows my mind, especially her medical and care giving photography which I’m a little newer to seeing. I just love documentary style photography. Here are some photos of myself, Ella (my girl with Rett Syndrome) has her big brother Conor (in the red jersey). 📷: Kristy Wolfe Photography 

Melanie
Ella watches the other families skating as her mom ties her brother's skates.

My 21 Weeks project focuses on Melanie’s caregiver role, as well as the relationship between Melanie and Ella. My hope is that this project will highlight the strength, resilience and hope that is necessary when advocating for your child in the medical and education systems.

This project is telling the story of one family’s life with Rett Syndrome.

  • Kristy Wolfe Photography, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, Rett Syndrome, medical mom, caregiver story, I Was There Too
  • Kristy Wolfe Photography, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, Rett Syndrome, medical mom, caregiver story, I Was There Too
  • Kristy Wolfe Photography, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, Rett Syndrome, medical mom, caregiver story, I Was There Too
  • Kristy Wolfe Photography, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, Rett Syndrome, medical mom, caregiver story, I Was There Too
  • Kristy Wolfe Photography, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, Rett Syndrome, medical mom, caregiver story, I Was There Too
  • Kristy Wolfe Photography, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, Rett Syndrome, medical mom, caregiver story, I Was There Too
  • Kristy Wolfe Photography, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, Rett Syndrome, medical mom, caregiver story, I Was There Too
  • Kristy Wolfe Photography, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, Rett Syndrome, medical mom, caregiver story, I Was There Too
  • Kristy Wolfe Photography, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, Rett Syndrome, medical mom, caregiver story, I Was There Too
  • Kristy Wolfe Photography, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, Rett Syndrome, medical mom, caregiver story, I Was There Too

This week I submitted the ten captioned images above to Kristine and then had them critiqued in a video session with her. The image above is actually just one image in a slideshow – swipe left or click the arrows to see the rest of the images.

I am quite a linear storyteller, and the feedback I received from Kristine was that we are going to work on challenging that linear pattern of storytelling. The types of images she suggested I include are images from different times I have spent with Melanie and Ella – a close up of her “talker”, a portrait of Melanie where there is more tension, introducing Ella more clearly…so I am adding a second slideshow below. While this was a challenge for my linear brain to wrap around, it was a good opportunity to expand my skills!

  • 21 weeks, visual storytelling, Rett Syndrome, medical mom

If storytelling through documentary family photography is of interest to you, for either your family or your organization, please connect with me.

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