You know how we've always been told, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."? When a child enters our little makeshift studio for a Flashes of Hope session I have my work cut out for me to gain their trust in the first few seconds.
Each person in the room has different, sometimes conflicting set of wants. For the kids, it ranges from wanting to be outside, or getting back to their video game to just being left alone. The parents are more complex. I hear in their voice that they want their kid to put on a good show for the photographer and "say cheese", yet in their eyes, I see gratitude for a few moments of distraction from their child's cancer treatment. Grateful to be doing something that seems normal if for only a few moments.
I'm not without my own agenda and feel the pressure to please a multitude of stakeholders
First, the kids. They are the only reason we are there. We have to be true to them. We have to respect them. Some are eighteen years and some are eighteen days, yet none of that matters, because all of them are individuals and must be treated that way. The irony is that the kids are the ones who actually care the least about the work we are doing. That's okay, that's how kids roll. They'll understand when they look back on these images in twenty years and see how far they've come.
Second on my mind when I look through the lens is the organization. FOH is not simply a .org that hangs out there on the innerwebs. To me, it's Kim and Nancy and William who do a ton more work than I will ever do in coordinating, organizing and moving the organization forward with several other photographers besides myself. It's because of them that these photo sessions happen at all at UNC. (that's not hyperbole) To honor their efforts and dedication, I owe them the best damn photos of kids I can muster.
Third, I'm there to challenge myself. To see if I can deliver the essence of the child in that moment in their lives while showing their light and their strength. My agenda is to create a positive experience for them, encourage them to be themselves and record it all in the few short moments we have together.
Finally, the parents. Wondering why they're last? Well, in my experience, it's a pretty sure bet that if I made the first three stakeholders happy, then the parents will be over the moon with the results. So far I have never been wrong about that.
Which brings me back to gaining the child's trust in those first few seconds. Without that, everything, and I mean every-little-thing falls apart and that's a lose-lose for everyone involved. The very best photographer, camera, lighting, background, creative ideas or intentions cannot make up for the disconnect that occurs when the subject is not engaged with, or trusting of the photographer.
This goes double for grownups. Young kids don't have all of the mental baggage and are nowhere near as self conscious as the over fourteen crowd. It makes me wonder why I have spent my entire career specializing in photography of adults. I suppose I enjoy the challenge and the psychological jiu-jitsu necessary to get people out of their heads and get the great shot.