On Monday, I had the opportunity to photograph Jodi DeCola and her daughters Cassidy and Reagan Grace.
In a nutshell, Jodi gave birth prematurely to 26-week-old Reagan Grace via C-section because of doctors' concerns over her high blood pressure. It was during the operation that doctors discovered stage three ovarian cancer.
When I was called about shooting this story around lunchtime, I didn't know what to expect. Laura and I were meeting Jodi at Kadlec during one of her visits to spend time with Reagan Grace in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and I've had mixed experiences shooting in hospitals.
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It was at Kadlec, though, which means working with Community Relations Director Jim Hall, who is consistently the best media relations person we work with regularly. Having worked at KEPR-TV for 12 years helps him understand our goals as visual storytellers. He doesn't try to set up photo ops and once he's introduced you to the subject, he stays out of the way.
It's a pretty simple wish list, but leaving any unfulfilled can make the shoot that much tougher, an unwelcome effect when working with stories of personal tragedy.
Jodi was very accommodating, however, and didn't pay much attention to me. That's probably easy for a mother whose newborn is in intensive care.
Her 4-year-old daughter Cassidy, however, took a little longer to warm up to me, spending a lot of time early on hiding in the chair next to her mom:
Laura was interviewing Jodi, so I tried to get Cassidy to relax. I crouched over by her hiding spot and asked her a couple questions about Reagan Grace and how many times she's come to visit. Then I snapped a couple shots of her:
complimented her choice of Disney characters and showed her the back of the camera.
"Who's this?" I asked in fauxmazement.
The mask hid her grin, but her eyes gave it away. I'd won her over, but the hunt for moments continued. While she wasn't shy and hiding anymore, she was now curious about my camera and me:
I turned to some other tricks and pretended to lose interest in the scene I was watching. Pretty soon, Cassidy's attention turned back to her mom and sister:
They marveled at how long Reagan Grace's nails were getting. "We're going to have to start cutting them soon," said Jodi:
It was tough to choose the best picture between these last four, but here was the first runner-up:
This photo ended up running in the paper because Jodi had made a comment about how Cassidy, with a limited 4-year-old's understanding of the situation, had told her that she didn't want her mommy to lose her hair:
I would have been happy with any of the four, and what easily could have been a dicey shoot turned into an enjoyable one. It was also uplifting to see her strength and resolve. If you skipped the full article above, check it out.
Getting the word out about people in need is one of the most rewarding parts of this job and makes it not always seem like just a job.