Children

Dreams & Realities, Friends & Rockstars -- National Down Syndrome Society New York City Photo Shoot

***This is one in a three-part perspective on the #rockinNDSSstudios experience with the National Down Syndrome Society. To see more of this journey, visit my co-photographers Nicole and Sherri who are also sharing their adventures in blogs today. ***

 

 

Months of planning, new and old friendships and a gathering of wild imaginations and big dreams came together earlier this month in what will most definitely be remembered as one of the absolute highlights of both my professional and personal stories.

A little background and then a lot of fun memories:

In mid-October I shared my friend and newborn photographer Nicole Starr's donation of photography sessions to families affected by Down Syndrome with my never-met-but-feel-like-true-friends friend Sara Weir, President of the National Down Syndrome Society. I thought it was a long shot and I thought I might be bothering with Sara's already busy schedule, but lo and behold, Sara requested a conference call with us. We were excited, but puzzled. Perhaps, we thought, Sara had some connections in Nicole's Boston area for some well-deserving families to receive photos.

But Sara is a dreamer. A big dreamer and a big believer. And that's what makes her and the NDSS so fabulous -- they're almost afraid of the word "no" when it comes to advocacy, human rights and possibilities and futures for those with DS.

She offered up her idea that maybe, just maybe, we could all collaborate for a NYC rock-and-roll-themed photo shoot to use for the NDSS annual fundraising Gala, held in March at BB King Blues Club. The rest of that phone call is a blur because I felt such extreme emotions overtake me.

When Nicole and I hung up with Sara (after agreeing that YES YES YES we were in!), we of course called each other and simply alternated between shocked silence and excited squealing. And we took off running from there. We joined forces soon after with Kandi, Kristie, Maddy, Amy and several others from NDSS. There were conference calls and Pinterest boards and model calls on Facebook and then e-mails, phone calls, Excel spreadsheets and travel plans.

Sherri, a mom to a daughter with DS and Nebraska-based photographer, volunteered her time and efforts, too.

Before we knew it, a sunny, mild December Monday morning arrived.

I sat on my seat on the plane, smiling out the window as I texted a picture of the plane to my aunt for the kids to see. I half-wanted someone to ask me where this plane was taking me, just so I could answer, "To the most INCREDIBLE opportunity I've ever been given! You would not believe how lucky I am!"

At the NDSS New York offices on the 600-block of Broadway in the heart of the NoHo neighborhood, it went from a big dream to a huge reality. We tested our lighting and camera settings, took a tour and scoped out corners. Poured some coffee, grabbed our lenses and for about the longest five minutes, just stood in our own little quiet worlds. Then the first models arrived, hair and makeup began their work and it began!

We had more than 200 volunteer applicants and wound up with more than 50 models. We represented just about every genre and style of music and every age between infant and 50 years old. Men and women, boys and girls. Quiet and shy and confident and strong.

You know how they say, "It's the little things in life"? It is. Truly.

I felt so many powerful moments.

Many of my 15-minute sessions were outside in a side street off of Broadway, with cobblestone and wrought iron gates, graffiti, cool staircases and a true NYC skyline and vibe.

I remember crossing over the cobblestone with one of my older models holding my hand, tenderly gracing her feet over the bricks as she told me in one breath about her recent ankle surgeries and a trip abroad for advocacy work.

A teenage boy was painfully shy and his parents warned me he may not come out of his shell. But just a couple of minutes later, I saw the most beautiful smile. His mother wrote me that the photo shoot has changed his confidence and self esteem.

My Billy Joel sang "Uptown Girl" while acting smooth on the front steps of a nearby business. My Elvis Costello suggested wonderful poses and locations along the street and nodded, "That looks so good!" when I showed him the back of the camera.

I received hugs and got so many hand squeezes. I took selfies with my new friends and just couldn't stop smiling.

(Photos below are camera phone behind-the-scenes shots:)

 

It wasn't just the rockstars. It was the tough Momma who gracefully balanced her other children with love and attention. The Dad who wasn't afraid to make a fool out of himself to get his son to loosen up in front of the cameras and strangers. Proud aunts and grandparents and friends, too. Big sisters who helped little brothers and all of those behind the scenes, holding fans and lights, grabbing coffees, allowing flexibility and not worrying about who won't wear their wig or whether or not glasses are part of the costume. Some of the best moments were when I wasn't holding my Nikon -- instead I was blasting and dancing (poorly) to some Taylor Swift or asking about hobbies and hometowns and listening, truly listening.

Moms who learned I have a son with Down Syndrome offered resources, phone numbers and the best of bear hugs. The kind that say "I get it" and "Our lives rock!"

There was talk about fighting for the right classroom, open-heart surgeries on sweet babies, scars from tubes and so many battles that are fought on a daily, hourly basis. But there was no complaining. There was no 'why me.' Over the course of two days, we had one common purpose with some sunshine and a lot of love. We created beautiful art with our experience and equipment and all of those big dreams. But our models and their families are the reason for the success of those days. Their patience and open-mindedness and their incredible positivity.

 

I was keeping it together pretty well.

And then, in the most unlikely of moments, it all hit.

Nicole was photographing our little Buddy Holly and he needed a little encouragement from his big sisters and Mom who were watching from the back of the room. They were great -- a little dancing and some laughter and he was ready for his time in the spotlight. But the moment that truly defined his time as a rockstar? Not the solo photo that Nicole nailed in the camera of him with a guitar and a little black suit. It was the instant before when he stood in the center of four of his family members, all of them grooving and giggling. THAT, is what NDSS celebrates and strives for and that is why I think we all wanted to be a part of this. That reminder of hope and beauty. Of a life that is absolutely remarkable. A life lived like a dance party.

But, I couldn't put that in words, and I quietly retreated and broke down in tears in the hallway.

I apologized for being weak and creating a scene, but then Kandi of NDSS, also a mom to a little boy with DS, held my back and said "This is all for Zack."

But this is for all of them. The 400,000 people living with DS in America today. The moms and dads who have been through it all and the new parents of the 1 in 691 births with a DS diagnosis every year. This is for my new friends who have college degrees and who dance or sing or act. It is for their past accomplishments and their future successes. They are all rockstars. They are all role models for us all.

 

 

Several families have sent me/us thank-you messages. I am appreciative and yet I shake my head and whisper, "No, thank YOU."

You who rearranged doctor appointments and missed school and work. You who traveled five hours in the morning for one hour in our little makeshift studios just to turn around and drive five hours back home -- because you told us you 'just had to do this.' You who trusted a stranger with a camera. You at the NDSS who travel multiple times a month, endure difficult phone calls and long Senate meetings and House bill lingo. You who march and fundraise and do not sit quietly with the status quo.

 

(Images below are of some of the models I worked most closely with, emulating the following rockstars: Usher / Pink / Elvis Costello / Billy Joel / Elvis / Michael Jackson / Lenny Kravitz / Lady Gaga / Gwen Stefani / Janis Joplin / Pat Benatar.)

 


Images from this photo session will be used in promotion for and on display at the NDSS 30th Annual Gala and Auction. This year's honorees include ABC and actor and advocate Chris Burke. Final posters of our rockstars will be available for purchase. All proceeds from this event will go toward the NDSS.

Sara's Seasons Greetings!

On a bitterly cold morning along the Susquehanna River, a very brave and very beautiful little girl forgot about everything but being a perfect model!

Little Sara and her mom joined me in Wilkes-Barre for some photos for their Christmas cards and of course, treasured memories!

Sara rocked two gorgeous outfits, some sweet blonde curls, big bright eyes and just the right amount of sass! We talked Frozen princesses and mischievous Elf on the Shelf friends!

Sara's mom thanked me recently for capturing their love and these memories, and that was far greater an honor than any order or recommendation. I love what I do -- freezing time (even in freezing temperatures!) and showing emotions and stories.

Sara and her family will have some great Christmas cards, a custom-made large-sized collage of some favorite photos and a whole lot of memories. We've already booked a Spring session together and I am already looking forward to more time with this great model!

Merry Christmas, Sara and Mom!

Fall, Photos, Families... and what's coming up!

Last weekend, Wendy spent time on a beautiful Autumn afternoon photographing two special families. The "E" family -- two young girls, a teenage son and Mom and Dad, are the epitome of beautiful inside and out -- they are constantly giving back to their community and instantly create a positive, upbeat atmosphere. I so enjoyed my time at their property and appreciated their patience and hospitality. An excited pup followed us around (and joined in some pictures!); the youngest girl was a model in the making; the older girl was quiet with a gorgeous smile; son was so cooperative in what is clearly not a dream afternoon for a teenage boy; and mom and dad looked like they were newlyweds or even dating!

The "A" family met me at the public squares of a nearby downtown where Mr. R, almost two years old, let me play in the leaves with him and bask in some great late afternoon sunshine. Nothing puts a smile on a little boy's face quite like a goofy photographer with a dancing leaf on her head! I love it when parents put their trust in me even when I know they're worried we're not getting any shots because of a running and exploring toddler -- we wound up with some GREAT final shots of R's blue eyes.

I had rented a beautiful lens for these sessions and I'm so excited to share that Santa is bringing me not only me very own version of this lens, but also an INCREDIBLE new camera body! My future sessions will have not only my practice and trainings and experience, but now also some really amazing technology behind it!

I have several sessions in the rest of November and then December and am still booking weddings for Spring, Summer and Fall of 2015!

AND THAT'S NOT ALL! At the end of this month, I am doing an entire day of mentoring with a very talented, very stylish photographer named Hope Taylor. (You MUST check her out HERE!) We've got some models lined up and I have a list of questions for her. I'll have new head shots and most definitely, new enthusiasm, passion and ideas! I can't wait to start yet another exciting chapter with YOU! Let's get together in 2015 and capture some life moments!

Without further ado, some Fall Family photos to brighten your Monday!

Upcoming photo sessions (Blair County/Bedford County)

**UPDATE**WZP has changed the dates of the Blair/Bedford-area sessions to the weekend of Oct. 18-19! Contact Wendy ASAP for openings!

Attention, Blair/Bedford counties: Wendy Zook Photography is comin' back to you for some special photo session events!

Oct. 18-19 Wendy will be offering discounted Autumn mini-sessions at Shawnee State Park, Schellsburg. Limited sessions available!

45-minute sessions with gourds, pumpkins, hay bales. Limit to four people/session ($15/additional person) At least 12 edited photos will be presented, in a password-protected online gallery, by Oct. 30. Cost: $50

Nov. 26 A one-day only opportunity to take advantage of family gathering together for Thanksgiving. Create a photo album or box of prints for a loved one's Christmas present. (Grandma or Mom need a collection of beautiful images of their children, siblings, grandchildren?) Or, use the photos to create lovely holiday cards! 60-90-minute sessions with two outfit changes at the location of your choosing. Limited spots available! Online gallery for printing, CD of retouched images or a beautiful canvas album are all available for your choice of a finished product. Contact me for pricing!

Handsome boys

My camera has spied several handsome boys lately! While I love the lace and pigtails of a shoot with a couple of girls, there is something to be said for the soft, serious side of boys of all ages.

Last week, I photographed two little brothers, Owen and his 'Baby Alex.' They were so cooperative and very, very photogenic! (The last time I photographed Owen, he screamed for at least 75% of the session!) We had fun around a local park and kept it easy and fun for the boys, just grabbing great shots here and there in between playing and climbing and exploring. I think it worked out great!

Then, a couple of days ago, I photographed my first senior, Zach. Although he was not a big fan of the session idea, he was a good sport and we captured some great images of him in his soccer uniform and then out and about on the family farm where he works. I love how comfortable he got at the farm. He's got a great smile when he lets one slip out!

I have a few more photo sessions coming up in the next week or so, including the long-awaited wedding this weekend of Megan and Joe and a beautiful girl I photographed about a year and a half ago.

I'm booking photo sessions for next week in the Blair/Bedford counties areas and then am working on filling up my schedule in the Scranton area at the end of August and September in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre areas. Schedule your session now! The camera is the last thing to be packed.

And now, some handsome gents:

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Blue eyes x2

A last-minute photo session, again in my backyard, captured the gorgeous greens of our surroundings alongside two siblings who have quite possibly the brightest, bluest eyes my camera has ever seen.

This is a very special family and I was so honored to have their time, patience, cooperation and pure joy in my world for a short while.

And now, may I present, Cora and Wyatt, both celebrating birthdays!

PS -- Accepting sessions for July 22, 24, 25 and Aug.8 and 15 in the Blair/Bedford areas!

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Some lovely lil ladies

I'm overdue in sharing some of my recent magic! In May, I photographed a two-year-old beauty who has my heart and could be a model. The best part was that we did most of the photographs right here in my backyard. I've always wanted to take advantage of the beautiful fields and mountains out back and this was our chance.

And this week, I capped off a celebration of a sweet lil (almost) one-year-old and her parents at their home nearby. She too could have been a model and we came out with some really special shots.

Bright blue eyes and deep brown eyes comin' up!

(BIG NEWS COMING SOON!... but for now, enjoy Ms. Aubrey and Ms. Brynlee)

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And Baby makes 4...

I met a handsome baby boy a few weeks ago that quickly stole my heart and yes, even created a little bit of baby fever. I know S's mom from my old job and she, Daddy and Big Brother S all joined in for a newborn/family photo shoot in the comfort of their own home.

Natural light flew in from a living room window. That, plus an easygoing, enthusiastic family and cooperative, sweet baby all made for a great session!

Welcome to the world, handsome little man!

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Lil Aubrey

Ms. Aubrey, a favorite of my heart and my camera, got some Christmas photos taken recently. The photos were taken at a beautiful resort all decked out in holiday decorations, but even their grandeur couldn't compare with Aubrey's big brown eyes and sweet smile. (Not to mention the cutest little dress!)

Merry Christmas, Ms. Aubrey and family!

Baby Brynlee!

Long overdue, but my dear friends Nick and Erin became parents to a long-awaited, much-prayed-for little girl this summer. She was beautiful even in utero, but even more beautiful in person! 

Her parents have adapted to becoming little Brynlee's mom and dad so very well and so quickly. They make it look so easy! 

Erin was practically a supermodel for me during our maternity session -- she was the epitome of a glowing mom-to-be. And when it came time for our newborn session last month, Brynlee did not want to close those pretty eyes of hers -- she wanted to be a part of the action! She didn't fuss once and we had so much fun playing dress up with her. 

Congratulations to a lovely, happy family. 

Blessings to Baby Brynlee! ImageImageImageImageImageImage

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!

I had quite the honor of hanging out with Miss Elizabeth at a local park earlier this week. Her mom proclaimed her to be a bit of a diva and while she may have looked the part in her tutu, hair pom-poms and beautiful blue eyes, she certainly didn't act that way! She was fun, friendly and inquisitive as we explored the beach and playground areas.

I couldn't get enough of her pigtails and those baby blues!

Enjoy a glimpse into my fun day with the Birthday Girl (today's her birthday!).

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!

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