Photographing Children & Families In Need - by Nicole Boenig McGrade
It's a hot summers night and I'm sitting on my front verandah overlooking a stark dry gardenbed. It hasn't rained in months and I'm still waiting for a cool breeze to dry the beads on my skin. After sitting in a wheelchair all day as I wait for my body to heal from an unpleasent car accident five months ago, my thoughts turn to all those families I had the privelidge of photographing over the past few years. Especially those suffering from a terminal or debilitating illness.
Photographing children or adults who pray for the biggest miracles is very humbling and has given me so much inner strength. I count my blessings as I tell their stories through my photographs.
When I answer the telephone, I can recognise the fear and sense of hope in their voice. Each time I'm surprised and humbled at how easily the parent of the sick child or family member opens up to tell me their story, which too often is an emotional tug of war.
There are many different stories to relive, but one in particular is of a beautiful young mother, Helena, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer and was only given a few weeks to live.
It was a Friday evening when I received a phone call from her brother asking me to take her last photographs with her family. Helena's health was declining very rapidly and so I promised to meet them the next afternoon.
I parked my car outside their house and took a few minutes to gather my own thoughts and strength before meeting everyone. The welcome was warm and friendly but subdued. Helena's sisters were there, to help with her makeup and wash and style her soft, shiny dark hair so that it frames her delicate, beautiful face.
Helena's two year old son was quite taken with all the movement in the home, oblivious to any reasoning. Her six month old daughter sensed the tension that was silently building and couldn't settle.
Helena's husband quietly showed me around their home and I decided the livingroom was a nice warm place to start. With so many people around stress levels in the home were rising and so I asked "Dad and Son" to sit together, cuddling as hard as they could. I photographed various family members together and apart. The looks in peoples eyes expressed their unspoken thoughts. The eyes are truely the window to your soul.
As I looked through the lens concentrating on their emotions, the tears began to well in my own eyes thinking of their future without Helena. This made it difficult for me to focus so I had to recompose myself quickly.
Helena got tired very quickly and she could only move from the loungeroom to her daughters bedroom before retiring to her own bed.
I had all but 45 minutes to photograph everyone and managed to shoot 7 rolls using both medium format and 35mm.
That weekend I managed an express developing and printing of all the rolls - and delivered the prints to the hospital where Helena had returned to after her sleep. The entire family were there as she slipped in and out of a coma.
Tears were plentiful looking through the photographs and I'm so pleased that Helena managed to see the photographs herself that afternoon. Her daughters christening was held at the hospital on Wednesday, which she was able to attend. The next day Helena quietly drifted away. To this day I still get emotional thinking about this beautiful family tragically torn apart.
I'm so pleased to have recently had the privelidge of meeting Helena's husband and her children again, who are growing up to be such lovely children. Helena would be proud.
These are the families that keep my passion for photography alive.