Last spring a really special project came to fruition, a Wall of Hope in our local Hospital for Children. Over the last year and a half, all of us at Laura Novak Photography have been donating our time to photographing babies who have survived numerous medical challenges. Twelve 24x36 images were provided to the hospital and now line the hallway leading up to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).
On my blog is a news clip from ABC Action News Philadelphia that aired the evening of our event, and gives you an idea of the positive impact on families who have been through so much. My speech was preceded by the CEO of the hospital and the head NICU nurse - it was heartwarming and emotional to see the entire project come together.
I have been getting a lot of questions from photographers as to how I went about this project, so I thought I would share how it came together in the event this is something you might want to pursue someday. I hope these are helpful to you!
How did this project come about?
Almost two years ago, I was on a shuttle bus coming back to Delaware from the Philadelphia airport and the only other two people on the bus were Nurses from the Hospital. We started talking and came up with the idea. I sent an email as a follow up and they forwarded it to a junior-level events coordinator at the Hospital. We then just kept meeting with people and following up. It was a good year of meeting with people and following up before we were able to begin photographing. Once the head NICU nurse got wind of the idea, she really drove it forward because she wanted it so badly for her patients.
How did you get the names of people to photograph?
Because of medical privacy laws, we were not able to solicit any kind of call for children or contact previous clients of the NICU. That was a real bummer because at the end, there were several people who were sad they were left out because they did not know about the project, so we will photograph them this year and add them on. Some nurses, through personal relationships, informally asked families to participate but the families had to contact us, the nurses could not give us their info. We also did a call for babies who have been in this Hospital's NICU in our newsletter and blog. A few moms contacted us because they heard of the project from friends who were participating.
Were the kids hard to photograph?
Some more than others. We photographed several babies who were still in a bit of pain and several with a tracheostomy in. That is so hard, it really puts your day in perspective. I got creative with one little girl who was just not feeling well, she just had her eighth surgery and really just wanted to be held by her mommy, but mom was not prepared to be in a photo. So I put mommy on our couch (she was a good sport!) laying down and placed a fuzzy blanket on her tummy. They we put the baby on the blanket and all tried to get her to smile, which she started laughing. It ended up being a great shot! I gave all the parents several loose prints of the image we chose.
What did you print on?
They are 24x36 WHCC standouts, all black and white, with each child's stories in text displayed within the image. This was a big lesson - again, for medical privacy reasons, we had the parents write the stories. If you do this project make sure the nurses proof the stories before you go to print! We had to re-print several because the medical terminology is so complicated it needed to be proofed by a medical expert first. These poor kids have been through so much, their conditions were incredibly complicated. All the stories talk a little bit about what happened with the child, and then we ended on a positive note such as how beautiful the child's smile is, what they like to play with, and how they so loved.
What did you do for the event?
During the last few months they were a lot more meetings (Hospitals love meetings!) with the higher ups, so I hired a publicist to just take over the meetings and the events. She was fantastic! She kept everyone on task, followed up with the PR team at the Hospital, and even had meetings without me and made decisions which was great. I was opening a second location of our studio so it was really wonderful having her handle everything. She made agendas for every meeting and planned the entire opening event with the Hospital PR team. The morning of the event she was on the phone with the local press, and got the Philadelphia news there, bringing awareness to the project. It was never my intention going into the wall of hope to have that kind of event - it started as more of a quiet personal project. But I'm glad it did because it was really great to see our customers' reactions and what JOY it was for the parents to have it be such a big celebration. They had been through so much, and really missed a lot of celebrations many parents get to have. This was their party honoring their children, and they were so incredibly proud. Every single one of them was glowing, they brought their entire families and it was packed.
The three speeches were the CEO of the hospital, the head NICU nurse's and then mine. At the end we had each parent pull down a sheet that was covering up their baby's image and there was a collective gasp and that was it for me - I started crying. And I look at the nurses and they are all crying. Same with my staff. And even the CEO of the hospital had a few tears in his eyes.
I hope this helps you with your very own wall of hope!