Kelly Garvey crouches down in the field, camera in hand. She loves the way the evening sun makes the field shine. Natural lighting is what breathes life into her portraits. But today is different. Today she is capturing something with its own glow.
“Look this way,” she says to the 6-year-old boy standing a few feet away. Jacob looks at her and smiles.
But it is not the smile of a boy struggling with Stage 4, high-risk neuroblastoma; it’s the smile of a warrior conquering it.
Garvey’s job doesn’t normally include taking pictures for cancer fighters. She’s a Texas photographer that specializes in genuine family portraits. She fell in love with baby photography when her two sons were born and quit her job as a teacher to pursue it full time. Her business and popularity grew, and she became a photographer in demand.
But Garvey didn’t want photography to just be a job. She wanted it to make a difference.
She started to look for ways to do exactly that, trying several times a year to find families that needed the warmth of a family photo shoot. It was no small task.
“It was challenging trying to figure out how to get the word out or where to go to find the families,” Garvey says.
Then, Magic Hour Foundation, Inc. came along. Magic Hour Foundation is a non-profit organization based in Chattanooga, TN that matches volunteer photographers with cancer fighters and survivors for free portrait sessions.
Jacob’s mother, Mardon, had thought about portraits for a while. Jake was the youngest of six kids, and his neuroblastoma had hit their family hard. He wasn’t progressing like they had hoped, so a studio wasn’t in Jake’s best interests. She still wanted to capture Jake’s wild spirit and their family bond.“Knowing that these could be some of our last, really great professional pictures just runs through your head during those times,” Mardon says.
So, Mardon reached out to Magic Hour, and Magic Hour reached out to Garvey.
She accepted the invitation.
To prepare for the portraits, Garvey started following Jake online through a blog that tracked his progress. It became clear that Jake was so much more than a boy with cancer. He was wild-at-heart, loving all things sword and gun. He slept with dinosaurs by night and fought villains by day. He was a warrior and an inspiration. He was a hero.
“I look up to that boy more than he’ll ever know,” Garvey says.
The photo shoot happened on a June afternoon in Houston. Despite being in the middle of his treatments, Jake’s spirit shone through. Garvey knew he was tired, but that didn’t stop him. His smiles were warm and hopeful. He brandished a prop sword with gusto. He dueled with his brother for the camera. His family portraits were heartfelt and powerful, evidence of the bond that cancer had left in its wake. It was everything Garvey hoped for in the session.
“I wanted to capture his genuine smile and innate happiness even through all he was going through,” Garvey says. “I really wanted to capture his family’s love for one another.”
Mardon was thrilled with the experience as well. She especially felt the weight of Jake’s pain and knew that this was a special chance for her family.
“[Kelly] was so patient,” Mardon says. “I mean, she just got on his level and followed him around. She took a lot longer than she probably would have ever taken. Her heart was right there with him.”
The family loved the photos that were taken. A sample was featured on Garvey’s blog with a heartfelt message of gratitude and support for them. According to his own blog, Jacob is still fighting neuroblastoma. But Garvey knows that she made a difference for his family. She knows that she has given back, and she plans to continue volunteering in hopes of giving back even more.
“Volunteering [for Magic Hour Foundation] is so much more than just taking portraits,” Garvey says. “It fuels my soul which helps keep my love for photography going strong.”
In it all, Garvey knows that it’s her job to take pictures – but it’s her calling to capture heroes.
To learn more about joining as a photographer or applying for a session yourself, please visit the Magic Hour Foundation website.
Article was written by Paige Burnett, intern with Magic Hour Foundation and currently a Senior Public Relations student at Southern Adventist University