I was asked recently by a friend to take photos of her and her friend for a fundraising event they are hosting together. I was excited for the shoot because it was the first time I'd put my new 50mm 1.4 lens to work for portraits and because I have photographed Danyelle before and she is a serious natural in front of the camera. The weather was supposed to be a bit overcast which is a perfect condition for a 12:30pm photo shoot, when direct sunlight can usually be tricky to work through. It had all the ingredients to be a great, great session.
It turned out that morning I woke up with my spirits not as high and energetic as they usually are the morning of a shoot. Just two days earlier my friend's mother, who had been battling a really horrific illness, passed away. My heart had a heaviness to it. I was going to Brooklyn that afternoon to pay a shiva call and I honestly woke up just wanting to get the pictures done so I could go see my friend already.
When Danyelle originally asked me to take the photos she just said it was for her "charity event". I was invited to the event myself since I am friends with Danyelle from our college days so I should have realized then what it was for. But for some reason, until I physically approached the location of the shoot with my camera in hand, it just didn't dawn on me.
But as I walked up and looked at these two beautiful women standing in front of me fixing their hair and adjusting their dresses, I remembered - the charity event they are hosting is to raise money for The Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer and The Lung Cancer Foundation of America. Those two charities are particularly close to their hearts because they each lost a parent to each of the diseases. Danyelle is living without a Dad while Ashley is living without a Mom. I looked at them in amazement, borrowed Ashley's coat because I didn't realize how cold it was outside when I got dressed that morning, and we got started.
The photo shoot was amazing. The girls were confident, beautiful, and hilarious. The lens did exactly what I was told it could do when I bought it. And the overcast was just lovely. A bit chilly, albeit, but lovely.
We wrapped up the shoot and went on our ways. They were going to some fabulous event out in Jersey together and I was headed to Brooklyn to see my friend.
The shiva call was hard. When you have only seen a person smile it's really hard to see them cry. I came home with an emptiness and a hopeless feeling of "there is no way to fix this."
I promised Danyelle and Ashley some sneak peeks and since I usually like to turn around edited pictures really quickly I gathered myself together and started editing.
As I started going through all the pictures I had a few pretty immediate and strong reactions: 1) This lens was worth every penny and 2) These girls are gorgeous.
But the strongest was the third.
3) This day seemed like this weird puzzle. A puzzle I wish never existed in the first place. I hate this puzzle. But it's a puzzle. And the pieces, like with all puzzles, seem to fit together.
I was looking at these photos and realizing I was looking into my friend's future. These girls were once where she was on that very day. They cried at no warning. They had loved ones, family, and friends funneling in and out of their homes offering condolences. They had puffy eyes and no appetite. They felt their lives would make more sense if it all just turned out to be a dream. They were sad; a kind of sad where they didn't even know the feeling existed until they felt it for themselves.
But today, look at them! No seriously, scroll down and look at them. They're not just living. They. Are Living. They are laughing. They are smiling. They are loving. They are exploring. They are growing. And they are doing. Not just doing stuff, they are doing incredible stuff. They are taking these unbelievably unthinkable experiences in their lives and they are using it as fuel to do good.
Out of all the weekends I wondered why this photo shoot happened to be on this very day. It all just seemed to intertwine; to fit together in this really unfortunate way. A puzzle where I would rather the pieces had never even existed. But here they are. Sitting in front of me. Waiting for me to assemble them.
These girls are what make the world go round. They make people like my friend see there is light; there is lightness within the darkness and there is warmth after the cold. Even if it seems spring just doesn't even exist anymore in this world, it will come. Spring will come.
Hats off to you, ladies. For not just taking these terrible events in your lives and using them for ways to bring some light into this world, but for being an inspiration to others who need to see what is ahead of them. And ahead of them is life.
To buy tickets for this event and support Danyelle and Ashley's efforts, click here. #battlingback