I won’t lie. Like many photographers, it took me awhile to find my feet. I began as a filmmaker and threw myself headfirst into the wedding industry, falling head over heels in love with photography along the way. I was happy with my work, but after awhile, I knew that the culture of high expectations in a highly charged emotional atmosphere was not something I was just going to be able to wake up one day and be magically able to handle. I’m just not wired like that. It took years, but I finally established that I was a chaser of moments, of light and of love (as well as an unapologetic black and white enthusiast) – so making a stand as an artist was literally the most important thing I could do for my emotional well-being.
A few months ago, I was approached by a previous client to shoot her maternity photos. I was falling in love with the documentary genre and dying to give myself a challenge. There was a time that I would have worried about pitching my vision and would have had full body chills at the thought of not getting my ideas across and being forced to take photos of her heart shaped hands around her belly. However, when I ran my ideas past her for a documentary-style photo shoot, she was all for it.
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I’ll admit that I was a little nervous because I’ve always been 100% in control of every shoot that I’ve done – even in my connection work, which isn’t posed but still requires a reasonable amount of guidance. I’ll tell you if you ever want to know what you’re made of as an artist turn up to a shoot unprepared but determined to nail it. It’s a lesson in faith in yourself, your abilities and your vision. It is transformational. There was literally nothing I could do to prepare and all I could do was make a promise to myself to photograph events as they unfolded while seeing it through, no matter what happened.
Elizabeth had just moved home with her parents to have her baby, and the house was being renovated. I turned up to unpacked boxes, electricians on ladders and lights being switched on and off. We had no choice but to work around them and so we did. It was then that I was grateful for not having a strict plan because I inevitably would have been disappointed and would’ve been fumbling to change it at the last minute. Going in with no expectations meant that I simply had to roll with whatever came my way.
We spent the morning talking. As I slowly prised my finger from the shutter, I remembered that a large percentage of documentary work was telling a story and letting go while allowing that narrative to unfold. I lifted my camera when I needed to, and put it down when I didn’t.
Elizabeth already has her own limits to push through on a daily basis. Not only is she working two jobs to put herself through law school, in 2014 (at the age of 17) she was diagnosed with an extremely rare and progressive brain disease called MoyaMoya Disease, which causes narrowing and blockages in the arteries of the brain. As a result, her son will be delivered premature by c-section at 37 weeks. On top of that, last year she was an ambassador for ToyBox International as a part of her participation in the Queensland state finals of Miss Universe Australia, raising money for sick and disadvantaged children.
We chatted about her journey while she put her makeup on, and the conversation diverted to her impressive snow globe collection as she took each one out and told me its story. I smiled as I thought of how she would soon be showing these to her son, how his eyes will light up at the flecks of snow that scatter and settle inside of each tiny world. I followed her around the house as she made herself a bowl of cereal for lunch, and pulled old photo albums from the boxes, searching for lost baby photos of herself. She read magazines as she talked about her childhood, her family, and her aspirations.
Everything was unfolding just as it should, although I knew that she was hoping for some portraits before I left. I wondered how I could pull that off without breaking my no-posing promise. It turned out, I didn’t have to. As she stood by the window, radiant in the glow of the incoming sunshine, she naturally and protectively wrapped her hands around her belly as she talked about the impending C-section and the hopes she had for her little boy and their future together.
I couldn’t stop smiling. The session couldn’t have been planned even if I’d tried and yet, I left with a card full of beautiful, authentic memories and the knowledge that in a few years time, her son will see these photos. Looking at them, he’ll be able to understand how much he was wanted, how much his mama loved to laugh and how she treasured every moment that she was alive.
And isn’t that what it’s all about?
Guest post writing and images are from photographer, Erica Wheadon
About Erica Wheadon: Erica Wheadon is a fine art portrait, travel & documentary photographer and a writer from the east coast of Australia. Her approach to her art is multifaceted and born from a deep desire to photograph human connection, as well as document stories of self-empowerment, love, and community. Her work is aligned with her vision as both storyteller and artist and edited predominantly in black and white. This lets her into the soul of every raw, imperfect and uncensored moment. She is head over heels for handwritten notes, passport stamps, live jazz, black and white film, vinyl, inappropriate card games, and craft gin. Website // Instagram // Facebook