Intro by Skip Cohen
For the last few weeks we've had several great guest posts from the crew at Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. This series started with a guest post from the mother of a baby who was photographed thanked to NILMDTS's, Vicki Zoller.
In this new guest post Cliff Lawson, President and member of the NILMDTS Board of Directors, shares the concerns he had before joining the organization. He's very open about what kept holding him back, keeping him from getting involved.
Over and over again, I've heard the same scenario, but here's the very cool thing about this. I also hear an amazing story from every photographer who gets involved about how they felt after their first shoot. Over and over again they question why they didn't get involved sooner and then express, often with a tear or two, the incredibly genuine feeling they had helping a family get through one of the most difficult situations any family can face.
March is recruitment month and NILMDTS needs photographers. Learning how you can get involved is just a click away.
This is the most rewarding thing I have ever done with my camera.
I am Cliff Lawson, a portrait photographer in Parker, Colorado. I am also an affiliate photographer for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep and currently the president of the board of directors for that organization.
My involvement began a little over five years ago after a conversation with another affiliate photographer. He encouraged me to check out the organization, which I did and asked myself the same question many of you would ask yourself, “Could I do this?” While I was certainly drawn to the mission, I was hesitant…well, you know…the unknown. I spent the next ten days or two weeks pulling virtual daisy petals—I’ll do it—I won’t do it—I’ll do it—I won’t do it.
Along about that time I was getting a haircut and mentioned this to the lady cutting my hair—what’s left of it—and she pointed her finger at me and said. “You need to do this. I lost my son 20 years ago and they never let me see him. I would give anything to have what you will be able to give those families.” I applied the next day.
So looking back, I know the only reason I hesitated to apply was a degree of fear. But fear of what?
Exactly…the fear of what. I didn’t know what. The what was unknown and that is what we all tend to fear—the unknown.
I bring that up because when we talk to photographers about becoming an affiliate, we hear the same thing over and over, “What you guys do is wonderful but I could never do it. I’m too emotional” or “I can’t do that, it is too hard” or quite often, “Oh I couldn’t do that because I would cry.”
To address that last one, crying is OK. This is a sad situation and expressing your feelings along with the family is normal and certainly acceptable. However many—probably most—photographers will tell you that they are so busy doing the session, that they are way too busy to get too emotional. When you are concerned about getting the poses, making sure the lighting is right, and doing all the things you would do for ANY portrait session, there is little time for getting too involved in the emotion of the moment.
I will admit that I can get emotional during the editing/processing of the images, but it is all worth it when I send out those images of that family’s baby that never made it home. I am giving them something only our profession can give. Truly, it is priceless.
Let me cut to the chase here: WE NEED more photographers. The demand outstrips our ability to serve. You do not need to be a professional, but you do need to do professional-level work. (Some of our best affiliates are advanced amateurs.) The ability to use a flash in a VERY dark room is a requirement. While many sessions are daytime with window light, some are in the NICU with light that is marginal, at best.
We require you submit images demonstrating your skill with both natural light and auxiliary lighting. We need to know you can deliver portrait-quality images.
PLEASE consider applying and helping us give back to so many families who need our help.
Part of this post is from a guest post my good buddy, Matthew Jordan Smith wrote a couple of years ago. I ran across it recently and having just spent time with him at WPPI, it got me thinking about Matthew's secret to success. You know, the one that everybody thinks icons had, to get them where they are today. LOL
There are no secrets - at least none that Matthew hasn't shared over and over again. Success is all about hard work, passion, integrity, your skill set, passion, networking, marketing and oh yeah, passion! You can't build a business and create images that tug at people's hearts if your heart's not in it. If you've met Matthew then you already know his passion for imaging - his heart is definitely in EVERYTHING he does, including his friendships.
Matthew's website is a prime example of how he does business. In fact, it was several years ago I was picking on him because his website didn't come close to representing who he was or how great his images were. I introduced him to the crew from SmugMug and they built his site. What he has today was a cooperative effort between designers and client. He didn't just sit back and let them build something, but participated each step of the way.
I've heard Matthew speak several times and I'm always in awe of his humility and his ability to hit home on so many different issues totally outside photography. His most recent project "Future Presidents" is all about dreams, in this case the aspirations of kids to someday become president.
I hope you get as much out of these next few paragraphs from Matthew as I did. Even when life gets in the way, nothing should ever trump your dreams.
This morning I am excited for the future. Dreaming is important, but to dream alone is not enough. We must act! I absolutely believe that the universe should test us to see how badly we want our dreams.
I start my day by being thankful for my health first and for my struggles and my success. I am thankful for my dreams and being able to share my thoughts on dreaming big with the world. Success does not come overnight and it's not supposed to. There is a price for everything and sometimes that price is your struggle. Once you understand that your struggles are payment for your success you accept it easier and sometimes with a smile.
This morning my step-son woke up upset over a small problem. To him it was a huge problem and he couldn't see past it. I explained to him that in life things rarely go as planned, but when you come across a problem you must not lose time being angry, but put your energy into finding a solution. He left for school with a different attitude and I was happy to have shared this lesson that we all must be cognizant of as we face life's challenges.
Always Dream Big! Matthew Jordan Smith
Intro by Skip Cohen
Every organization and in fact, just about every photographer we know, has a story about how they got started. Welcome to the roots of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. This wonderful background story is all thanks to Mindy Tappan, NILMDTS's Publicity and Outreach Manager.
There are so many of you over the years who have asked about starting your own non-profit. As Mindy tells Cheryl's story, pay attention to the pure passion for the cause that drove Cheryl and Sandy to get things started. No matter what the cause you want to raise awareness about, it all has to start completely with your heart.
This is recruitment month for NILMDTS and the fourth in their series of guest posts. They need your help and if like me, you think you wouldn't have what it takes to deal with the emotional side, read Vicki Zoller's post from the photographer's perspective.
by Mindy Tappan
Cheryl Haggard never imagined she would start a nonprofit organization in honor of her son, Maddux. After all, the nursery was finished and she was ready to welcome the couple’s fourth child into the world. On February 4, 2005, Cheryl and her husband Mike arrived at the hospital for a planned c-section. It wasn’t until they went into the operating room that the couple found out something was wrong with Maddux.
“The moment it really hit that something was wrong – instead of seeing the NICU doctor, I’ve got the chaplain in my room,” recalled Haggard.
Cheryl was in denial. Although, she always sensed that something was wrong with this baby throughout her pregnancy.
“I remember having a dream once where I have this rocking chair that I have nursed and rocked all my babies in and I remember I’m trying to nurse Maddux. For several minutes, I’m trying to get him to latch on without looking in the dark and I finally look down and my arms were empty,” said Haggard.
She had another vision after putting the crib together.
“I remember stepping back and looking at the crib. I had this thought that he would never sleep in that crib,” recalled Haggard, “I’ve talked to several moms about intuition. It’s a powerful thing.”
Cheryl thought about this intuition in the days and weeks after Maddux’s death. But it wasn’t something she thought about during those difficult six days that Maddux was in the NICU fighting for his life.
“In the NICU they had photographs of healthy babies. Mike and I both looked at each other and said we want photographs. It was never a question of money, this is what we wanted,” said Haggard.
The photographs were the work of Littleton photographer Sandy Puc’. The Haggard’s contacted her. Sandy rearranged her schedule and agreed to go to the hospital to take pictures of Maddux.
“The one photo I saw at the hospital when she turned her screen to look at photos was the one of me and Maddux. I’ll always remember that,” cried Haggard.
That image has become the marquee image of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
“I wanted him skin to skin. I took my shirt off. I undressed him. I laid his belly on my chest and just held him,” Haggard said.
Sandy captured images of Maddux while he was on life support because this is how the Haggards knew Maddux for those six days. But Cheryl wanted something more. She asked Sandy if she would wait until after Maddux died and then come back into the room to take more intimate portraits of Cheryl cradling her son skin to skin.
In the days following Maddux’s death, Cheryl called Sandy almost every day.
“Are my photos ready?”
Cheryl remembers Sandy and her business partner at the time, Dave Junion, had a quick turnaround time. Mike and Cheryl were invited to Sandy’s studio towards the end of February to see the images for the first time. When they walked into the private room, Maddux’s picture was on the big screen. They played the video montage over and over and over again.
“I remember giving her (Sandy) a hug, and saying do you know what you’ve given me,” Haggard said.
Cheryl had taken her own pictures of Maddux, but they weren’t of the quality she was looking for. The professional images meant so much more to her than the ones she took.
“The images I took are my reality. Every time I look at those images, I am reminded of the sadness, pain and heartache,” said Haggard, “The photographs we have through Sandy, I’ve always said they’re more of a dream like state. They’re more calming and tranquil to me.” The professional portraits are more calming because they’re black and white images. The color ones are difficult for Cheryl to look at because they bring back all of the raw emotions.
“It was important to have photographs I could share and display in my home without those emotions of sadness,” said Haggard.
It took several months to receive the images Cheryl ordered. During that time, Sandy and Cheryl kept in touch. Ironically, Sandy took another photo session for a client who had also experienced infant loss.
“Sandy asked if she could share my number with Charlene. We had both lost babies. Maybe I could help her,” Haggard recalled. Cheryl and Charlene met for lunch one day in March. They shared pictures of their angel babies – Maddux and Daniel.
“It was right there, the idea of what if. What if I could share my story and talk about how you can have those intimate portraits and it’s okay to have a photograph after your baby has died? What if Sandy could be on the photographer side of things? That’s kind of where it got started.”
Within that week, Cheryl and Sandy brought their concept to reality, filing paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service to form Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep as a nonprofit organization.
The IRS quickly approved the application. Working from Maddux’s nursery, Cheryl began coordinating logistics and developing a website. Her friend Peter Osberg donated his time to the project while his wife Kara was traveling to Mexico for a mission trip to an orphanage.
Cheryl thought it was a perfect opportunity to donate all of Maddux’s stuff. She cleaned out his room, and gave her friend diapers, clothes and formula to take to the orphanage. She took the nursery furniture back to the consignment store where she had bought it, and used the money to pay for initial expenses for the nonprofit organization she had started honoring Maddux’s legacy.
“I wish something like this wasn’t needed, but after I lost Maddux in my small community of Evergreen, I had women coming out of the woodwork telling me ‘I had a loss.’ It’s not talked about,” said Haggard.
“To have that kind of quality images that parents can remember their baby by, I think that’s what really motivated me knowing I could help others.”
Intro by Skip Cohen
Tim Kelly has a been a friend for a long time, but I want to define "friend" here. We share a lot of common buddies, attend all the same conventions, workshops and even a few rubber-chicken dinners. Like so many of us who are friends, we appreciate each other, even watch each other's backs, but we've never had the time to really sit down and just talk about the industry, the business and the challenges.
Well, not finding that time is clearly my loss - this is an amazing guest post and Tim hits on the topic in a way that to date, I haven't heard. He sums it up in one sentence...
"If you aspire to excellence in photography, it requires more than talent, and a whole lot more than an equipment purchase and a seminar on-line"
This is one of those posts I wish I could make mandatory for every artist to read and one of Tim's closing lines says it all,
"Creativity needs real nutrition, not junk food!"
Looking to find out more about Tim? Check out his website. Even better he's got a workshop coming up at his studio on May 19-21.
Perhaps you don’t have a problem finding inspiration, but many do. There are many things that can stifle creativity, and maybe you’ve started wondering if it’s somehow been getting harder and harder. Though not an excuse, I think it is, and I believe I know why.
There are heroes in our craft, the arts and elsewhere who serve to prove just what can be accomplished with a vision and hard work. However, after so many centuries of invention and creativity, born through good times and trial, I believe we have a serious new problem. We can beat it, but I think it will take a level of focus we’ve not yet been challenged to muster.
The new enemy I see is visual gluttony. An overstimulation and imaging overload that has the potential to confuse and drown the development of fresh thinking. It is reaching a new and dangerous level.
True Inspiration: Compare the rapture of seeing a masterwork face to face in the Louvre, London’s National Portrait Gallery of the MOMA to a quick scan of a thousand, three inch images on the internet in your daily browsing. You may find something of value there amongst the noise, but your time may be better spent on a curated collection in the flesh or even in a high quality book. Whatever you can do, consider this time spent on your artistic development.
Patient Study: There are contemporary artists who I appreciate and study, for it’s not exactly possible to mentor with Rembrandt, Sergeant or even Karsh for that matter. But, there are innumerable artists, accomplished in many schools and styles that can become a deep and specific influence for you. Few artists come to be great quickly, so beware – you’re likely not the exception. It will take time! God gifts many with talent, but that’s just the very beginning. Start contemplating what it could take to be successful, and the devotion it will require of you, should you accept the challenge. It is so worth it - and it’s really the only way.
Proper Investment: These opinions of mine are just that, but I’ve known so many artists and photographers in my career who I only testify to the successes and failures I’ve observed. I believe there are both artists and craftspeople in our trade, but If you aspire to excellence in photography, it requires more than talent, and a whole lot more than an equipment purchase and a seminar on-line. Digital is considered by some a friend and others, an enemy. It is neither and either. I was an early adopter and use its power everyday, but while I deem it just another tool, it has deceived many an aspiring photographer into believing great photography requires no serious training because “good” is easily accomplished. But, that’s another discussion.
My message today is to be wary of where your time is invested. We all, myself included, have distractions bombarding us continually. Our mind can be flooded with less than worthwhile images that will steal our focus, it will steal our time, and it will lower the bar. Just imagine what can be accomplished, and what we can create, if we often spend an entire day resolved to learning or practice. In music we call it “woodsheding”, which is locking yourself away to write or learn a piece or a part we need to perform. I believe our art requires the same discipline. Among all the lightweight, ear tickling fluff, there is good instruction out there, but, to stay sharp, we need to steer clear of that bakery window and go to the garden. Creativity needs real nutrition, not junk food.
Let’s make an effort to nurture real creativity by setting ourselves apart from the noise. Even for an hour – to be taught, to practice, to create. You may just like it.
Images copyright Tim Kelly. All rights reserved.
Intro by Skip Cohen
I've written so many times over the years about how as professional photographers you have the ability to literally stop time and help your clients capture memories. Often these moments are the most precious in their lives and here's a prime example from Gina Harris.
At the time, Gina had no idea just how much of an impact her son would have, not just on the hearts of her and her husband, but on the way David, and later Ethan, would influence her role in our industry. As today's Director of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, Gina understands firsthand the important role photography plays in the healing process.
NILMDTS needs your help and March is Recruitment Month. So many of you have so much talent and the ability to help a family in need. Don't let yourself get trapped into that old excuse of, "I just don't think I could do this kind of photography without crying!" As Vicki Zoller points out in her guest post, her role in helping families to heal, far out weighs her worries about being able to cope.
Being a part of this terrific organization is just a click away!
In 2007, my husband Rob and I were full of hope when we learned our first baby was going to be a boy. Shortly after, we learned our baby had Potter’s Syndrome , in which his kidneys did not form.
Almost 34 weeks into the pregnancy, our son David was coming. When David was delivered, his heart was not beating. The doctor handed David to me. I was overwhelmed at how beautiful he was. He looked so perfect. How could anything be wrong with him? We held him for six hours. I made sure to remember how he smelled and how soft his skin was. I tried my best to remember every moment with him.
Thankfully, a friend had told me about Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (NILMDTS). When I went into labor, we called Sandy Puc’, co-founder of NILMDTS to take images of our son. These photographs helped capture the moments with him and every feature of our adorable boy. There is no way I could have remembered this much without the photographs. When we received the images, they became and still are, our most prized possession. When I look at the images of David, I feel peace. His cute little face puts a smile on my face, but tears in my eyes.
Shortly after, we became pregnant again. At the 16-week ultra-sound we learned the baby had kidneys, but he had two fatal conditions - cystic hygromas and hydrops. The doctor said most babies with these conditions tend to miscarry, but was surprised that our baby’s heart was beating strong. Each week, we went to the doctor’s office to see if the baby’s heart was still beating. As each week went by, I started believing that maybe this baby would be healed. Unfortunately at 24 weeks, the baby’s heart stopped beating and my labor was induced. We found out he was a boy and we named him Ethan.
Ethan’s condition was extremely severe, more so than what we had thought. In our grief, we chose not to photograph him. We held Ethan as long as we could. I told him, “You are beautiful. Your body is perfect now in heaven. You are with your big brother now.” We buried Ethan next to his big brother David.
Not having images of Ethan made the grieving and healing process much more difficult for my husband and me. The images we have of David shows that he was real – he existed. I often feel that Ethan is forgotten because we don’t have images of him.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to become the executive director at NILMDTS. I had been in the nonprofit field my whole career and was serving as the executive director at another agency. To be able to bring my nonprofit experience and my passion for an organization that has impacted me in such a profound way is such an honor. For as long as I had worked in nonprofit, I had never needed the services of one until I needed NILMDTS. NILMDTS gave me my most prized possession – images of my beautiful son David. Now, it was my time, to utilize my experience and skills to give back.
Even though I lost David and Ethan, I still did not truly grasp the magnitude of infant loss and the need for NILMDTS services until I became the executive director at this amazing organization. Even though we have volunteer photographers throughout the world, we still do not have enough to serve all of the families who need our services. Our volunteers do one of the most incredible services a volunteer could offer. I hope that if you are reading this and have photography and/or retouching skills, you will consider being part of NILMDTS.
Please consider applying as a photographer or digital retouch artist. Visit: www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org.