We all have to start somewhere.
This is the story of my photography journey in 20 images.
But maybe you would rather take a few minutes and read it yourself…
I remember being so proud of the different textures in this picture of our Golden Retriever, Indy. It is still the profile picture for my original, and now abandoned Facebook account. My son, Kane, was born 8 weeks early in November 2012. During the 54 days we spent in the NICU I had my camera with me most of the time.
Six months later, I began sharing our story. In my very first blog post, I wrote, “Kane has reminded me of what’s important. Photography is important to me.” While doing kangaroo care in the NICU I read an article titled, Voluntography: How Shooting For Free Made Me A Better Photographer. I immediately emailed the photographers and asked if I could help.
I did tell them I had no real experience.
It turns out helping actually meant taking over. I began photographing Ronald McDonald House families once a month. Then it was our turn. Kane needed a heart surgery. I thought I would be ready, but can you ever really be ready for something like that?
In December 2013, I wrote “No matter how many times I have photographed heart babies, nothing could have prepared me for seeing my own child in the PCICU after surgery.” Photographing and telling our story helped me to heal.
I started my first project 52 with this self portrait. It was just 2 weeks after Kane’s surgery.
This is one of the first images I ever shared with another group of photographers. It was shortly after I joined an online group called Clickin Moms. While I photographed and shared images of our family, I also experimented with different styles of photography.
I learned I didn’t want to pose people. And I definitely didn’t want to take photos of inanimate objects.
What I did want was to spend time with a family and watch their story unfold.
What if other families wanted this too? Later that year, I went to my first photography conference. The keynote speaker, Sue Bryce, a renowned portrait photographer, reminded us to be open to tell our story, which you have probably noticed is pretty important to me.
She said “Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes.”
And friends, there are many times when my voice shakes. My voice shook even as I worked up the courage to do my first portfolio review with a local Edmonton photographer.
It was not nearly as terrifying as I expected! In her feedback, she focused on my strengths and gave me homework projects to help make my images stronger. Over the next few months, she encouraged my confidence in my own photography. The skills I had been learning over the last four years were helping me to find my voice.
But fitting in photography for clients when you have a young family, a full time teaching career and have chosen to make voluntography a priority was difficult.
Mom guilt hit me hard when I was away from my family spending time with another family. And then something like this connects your life inextricably to another’s.
These next words are from Huxley’s moms…
“When Kristy came into the NICU and photographed our family during the most vulnerable moments of our life, she became part of our story. Her photos captured the rawness of that time – the grief, the pain, the love, the trauma, and the beauty.” Now that was getting pretty heavy, so here’s one of my all time favourite images of my younger son, Maverick.
This is Us.
I consider myself to be a documentary style photographer and I aim to represent each experience I photograph accurately. And you guys, this is most definitely Mav. But not everyone gets to meet their babies.
After a stillborn birth, this mom reached out to me saying “I really want to make sure we capture my body.”
Me Rah Koh wrote “The more we are able to accept our own pain and imperfect process, the more space we create for others to feel accepted.”
My hope is that with my camera and my words I am making space for others. As I continued reflecting on the families I wanted to work with, I began wondering…
What if hospital families who shared their stories through my lens were gifted the images and organizations had real life stories to work with?
I want to get photos into the hands of hospital families, but I don’t want it to be an additional cost for them. Photography was also important in the grade 1 class that I taught. We used photos to document our learning, to build visual literacy and to develop verbal and written storytelling skills.
By the end of last year, our grade 1 class had created a Day in the Life slideshow, as a social story, to support the students moving up from kindergarten. Telling visual stories with kids is important to me, but I still struggle with telling Kane’s story.
And then came Together. Together is a collaborative project Kane and I are doing to tell OUR story of hospital life.
This project showcases my perspective as well as Kane’s. It allows us to learn together and heal together. This is the image Kane took of me while waiting to see his cardiologist. Our Together provides Kane with an opportunity to focus on details that are important to him. I want other families to see their strength and resilience.
When I asked Tucker’s family if I could share this image they wrote back…
“You were such a huge part of our journey, and as hard as the loss was, the photos were such an organic and beautiful event. We absolutely feel it should be something others think about doing.” Brene Brown writes, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen…Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”
I am so grateful to each of the families that have shared their story with me.
It is my pleasure and my honour to document their lives. Sometimes my own kids even share my love of photography!
We have been doing monthly photography projects that I write about in a newsletter geared to educators and parents.
The goal of Click with Kids is for adults and kids to learn basic photography skills together. Then in September 2019 just after our family moved to Canmore, Alberta, our son, Kane, had another heart surgery.
This image is of my son and my husband two days after Kane’s heart surgery. Due to complications Kane ended up requiring a pacemaker be inserted later that week. Documenting life in hospital is so important. Families need to see themselves, their strength, their resilience, their struggle and their hope. Telling stories for medical families both in and out of hospital is what I am passionate about.
My early career began with photographing Ronald McDonald House families. Over the years I photographed more than 50 families. These families were some of the original Wolfe Pack Warriors. To learn a little more about my voluntography check out the
interview with Su-Ling Goh on Global News.
What’s your story?