Thursday, September 08, 2011

Shooting Towards a Purpose

The first time I was introduced to the world of photography (the world of shooting in "manual" mode, that is), Brian was behind the camera.  He was a film shooter of course, and he had me intrigued with the options of stepping into the creative side of photography.  During that summer of 1996, he tried his best to explain the ins and outs of the exposure triangle, but I suppose my love sickness got in the way of me actually taking all the information in . . . so although I continued to use his fancy SLR cameras, I had no idea what I was really doing with them, nor did I realize the potential of shooting manually.  

Fast forward to August 2003.  The night Shawn was dying.  Thankfully, I had quickly gotten into the habit of carrying our camera and rolls of film every trip into the NICU, and I had it that night.  We snapped photos of the last hours with our son in what would otherwise be known as horrible lighting and photographic conditions.  It didn't matter--we wanted to freeze those moments in time so that we could have them forever.  The importance of us having our camera with us that night really hit home when we were taking care of Shawn after he actually passed.  The nurse urged us to enjoy these moments and take as many photos as we wanted, both for our sake and for Clayton's in the future.  She offered the use of the NICU camera and my mouth dropped open.  It was a polaroid.  

Let me repeat.

In the year 2003, all they had to offer parents who had suddenly lost their child was a polaroid camera.

Can you imagine if the only pictures you had of your child were one or two snapshots taken with a polaroid camera?

Some of those infant deaths happen so quickly (we luckily had a few hours to prepare), that many parents don't have a chance to use anything other than what is available at the hospital.  It really bothered me that many parents walked away with just these couple of snapshots of their sweet baby.

In the months afterward, it bugged me to no end that our pictures of Shawn after death (the only ones that show his face without the ventilator tubing) showed the discolorations brought on by the infection and many medications that were injected into him.  Moreover, I regret every. single. day. not taking photos of him at the funeral home when all of that had been removed and his precious body was just that of a beautiful baby.  

It was in 2005 that I started scrapbooking, and I became immersed in the world of memory keeping.  I was exposed to mother after mother who not only created beautiful art with paper, but took some pretty inspiring photos of their children to boot.  I started getting just a bit more serious about my pictures.  We bought our first digital camera and I went to town snapping photos.  It was also around this time that I became aware of the national organization, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.  At the time, they had no members in Arkansas and I had the fleeting thought that maybe one day I could perform that service for parents who had or would suffer infant loss.  But I knew that I was no where near good enough to volunteer. It was just a seed of an idea that was planted in my mind.  

In 2009, I decided, in my usual fashion, that anything worth doing is worth doing right.  We upgraded our camera and I was determined to learn all there was to know about shooting manually.  I've learned so much over the past two years--constant study and practice has continued to help me improve my photos.  The cool thing is, I've just touched the tip of the iceberg!  The world of possibilities is endless when it comes to creating beautiful photos.  And as my skills have improved, that little kernel of an idea--of helping NILMDTS--has begun to sprout.  

It was just last week that I was reminded of how much I want to help parents in this way.  I learned of two infant deaths, one stillbirth and one just hours old.  Oh, how I wish I could have been there to document the few hours these families had with their angels!  Not only document it, but document it with more than just snapshots--document it with beautiful family photos that would truly be timeless!

I have such a long way to go.  A lot to learn about shooting in low lights and becoming confident enough in myself to offer my services.  Not to mention being emotionally ready for the onslaught of memories I would relive each time I shot one of these sessions.  But in my mind, I keep thinking what's wrong with a few tears and remembering such a special time in our life . . .  especially if it means I'm capturing that special moment for another family?  

So it is with this as one of my goals I continue to push myself.  Push towards becoming better and better with using my camera as my tool--my tool to capture priceless memories for not only the living, but the dying as well.  

And who knows? Maybe you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this and for this very occasion . . . Esther 4:14b


Cassandra said...

Ashley, I am so proud to be your friend-- you are an amazing person and an inspiration to everyone you meet. {{{{hugs}}}

Becky said...

I won't pretend to know how it feels to lose a child. But I can tell you that as a parent who's child was in the NICU for 7 VERY. LONG. WEEKS. That everyday we took pics. And I had the unfortunate opportunity to meet those who lost their precious babies. I applaud you for your goal to help document those moments for them.

Leslie said...

that verse is something I needed to hear. Your post as always is beautiful and moves me. What a blessing you are and that God shines out of you!

Janet said...

What wonderful gifts of experience and talent you have to share with parents and how special it is that you are coming to realize this. Best of luck to you.

Patti H said...

you are one special person. I am with Cassandra I too am proud to call you my friend!!

Yankeescrapper said...

I can't imagine the grief involved, but it would besotted comforting to have you there with your camera.
You are amazing.

Amelia said...

Do it, Ashley!!!

Lee-Ellen said...

Oh Ashley, I think you would be incredible at this. You have such a loving heart, an amazing talent for photography and the empathy needed by these families. You are one amazing lady! <3