Today’s story will be a little bit different. It has been five years in the making; a journey of laughter and tears that has spanned three adoptions and countless hours together getting to know each other. We’ve shared the ups and downs of the building of the Anderson family and I have been allowed into the most private times of their lives to make images for the family to remember these moments by. Throughout this time, we’ve formed a friendship that I treasure and so many memories that this post was difficult par down to a story about the images. Thus, we’ll weave in what it’s been like to photograph this family for so long, as well. Sit tight. This is going to be a long one.
I first met the Andersons in 2014 when they were adopting their first child, Ezra. Due to a prior booking, I would see them in the room at their first meeting but not actually be there to photograph them. However, we made sure to book in Custody Day and a family session early on, so I was able to be there for those. I was also able to be there for the adoption of their daughter Lydia. That was a tough transition, however, and I never shared anything from those days together. In this blog, I’d like to share one image I love from each of those first couple of times we spent together.
First up is Ezra. He was unstoppable. I chose this image from the day because it shows exactly who he is. This boy takes charge. He knew exactly where he was staying that night and the moment his shoes were off he left his parents in the dust and it was all I could do to get up the stairs before him and make a few pictures on the way. On that day, he was to help his family move rooms. One by one, he dragged all the bags between the rooms, only stopping once to dump a bag of toys in the middle of the hall and examine them.
Next up is Lydia. Lydia is a quieter soul and that definitely came through on her custody day. Overwhelmed by it all, she went to sleep in her mother’s arms and we were able to get a soft portrait of her with her parents in the window light of their apartment. In whispers, we all marveled at this young lady for a time. Lydia has certainly come into her own over the past couple of years and once I had gained her trust this time around, we became good friends and I was able to see a very different side to her. You’ll see that in the images below.
Over time we’ve become close friends and when I got the surprise call to be there for a third adoption, I dropped everything to make sure it would happen. Nothing was going to stop me from being there to document my friends’ family building and kick back with some (just a few, I swear) tacos during the process.
When the day finally came, we all met in a coffee shop to prepare ourselves. It seems that no matter how many adoptions I photograph, the same trepidations surface before each and every one. I was glad to learn that I wasn’t the only one. I had triple-checked the cameras to make sure settings were ready for those first few moments, batteries were fully charged, memory was empty, and I’d had a couple of coffees to get my mind up to speed. Still, my palms were clammy and my hands were shaking. I didn’t want to miss a thing. Thankfully, the Andersons had also forgotten the flowers they would give to Selah’s foster mother in the heat of their preparations for the day. So, I knew we were all on the same page. Of course, we were all able to joke a little this time as we had an idea of what to be ready for and had prepared ourselves emotionally for the ride that was to come. Before heading upstairs for the meeting, we snagged a quick photo of their last moments as a family of four in front of the offices.
Then we headed inside and the excitement was bubbling over. Ezra and Lydia couldn’t wait to meet their new sister and a race for the lifts was certainly exemplary this. Everything went a little quiet as we entered the lift, though, as everyone prepared themselves for the coming meeting.
We started slow and cautious like any new meeting, but it quickly evolved. Selah, as both the other children were, was given space to breathe and do things at her own pace. She started out nervously from within the safe confines of her foster mother’s arms, but quickly realised how much fun her family was going to be and ended up stacking blocks with her mother, tossing a ball with her father, and riding a car around the room with her raucous siblings in no time. There was so much going on it was almost hard to know when one activity finished and the next began. There couldn’t have been a better beginning to this bonding.
Our time together in the past meant that I had an understanding of mother, father, and children in this situation. Dozens of times, I would meet eyes with one of them and share a moment of understanding. These moments made it both easier and more difficult to continue photographing in my usual documentary style. I had become partial, which was both a blessing and a curse. Honestly, I am amazed that through my own emotions and love for this family, I managed so much of these sessions in focus. For me, having known the Andersons so long meant that there was so much more to capture. The small moments stood out and meant so much more.
With all adoptions, it is important to pay attention to the quieter moments, but those were so much more heightened for these meetings. Being in tune with Ezra and Lydia’s rhythms had me in the right space to capture the important moments for everyone. Small glances from both, their own private times, the time they needed with their parents. All of this became so clear and important during the couple of sessions we had. Just like their parents, they were about to welcome a new baby girl to the family and that meant making space in their hearts.
On custody day, we went through a similar pattern to the first meetings. Selah started out a little nervous, but quickly opened her heart and began having a wonderful time with her family. The meeting itself lasted just under an hour but we managed to get the (now) oversized Ezra and Lydia into the famous “Blue Chair” while we were there. We were on our way back to the apartment before we knew it. Selah’s ride was not an easy one for her and she grieved immensely until she put herself to sleep. When we arrived, she slept for a time and awoke to a little more grieving. A tender response from her parents and siblings quickly brought her some joy, however, and it wasn’t long before the house was filled with the sounds of ecstatic laughter as they chased each other around, bounced on the couch, played dress-up, and read books.
When working through the thousands of images I made over these sessions, I was looking for moments that expressed the joys, laughter, tears, introspection, self-preservation, gregariousness, tenderness, warmth, and shyness that I needed to tell the full story. I’m not ashamed to admit I had to take several breaks during this process to recentre myself so I could continue to work. Such is the nature of working with people so closely.
The moments of tender caring from all involved were hard to choose between and I ended up picking a lot more than I typically would over the course of a family session. Everything during the first meetings had so much weight that it was hard to omit from the finished story. Everything from Ezra’s dancing in front of the TV for his sister to small gestures of biting a blanket played such a role in this session that it was hard to reduce it to even a few hundred photos.
Without a doubt, however, the overwhelming theme during this entire process was the family’s dedication to their new member. Everyone understood their role and there was absolutely no shortage of thought-space for the gorgeous Selah as she found her place with her new companions. By the time we got to our family session (the VERY NEXT day), the bond was strong and you’ll see that in the images below.
To finish up this story, I’d like to extend my thanks again to the Anderson family for the moments we’ve shared and our continued friendship. I’m looking forward to our next round of tacos and hot-sauce experimentation when we next meet. Much love.