The most powerful images, the ones with meaning, purpose and vision, are often created long before the shutter button is ever pressed. They are the culmination of a series of thoughtful efforts and collaboration between the photographer and someone else. Another person, who has granted the photographer access to a world, not previously available. I’ve found that developing relationships and photographing for people and organizations I care about, has made me a better photographer and a better person.
Sunrise Day Camp is a free summer camp on Long Island for children who either have cancer, or who have siblings that are battling cancer. I find it to be such an amazing place, filled with caring and positive people and some of the bravest children, bravest people, I’ve ever met. The goal of this camp is to help the kids have a normal, happy summer camp experience. In my role here, I work in a small log cabin with three other photographers, teaching the kids the basics of photography.
We work with about 20 kids a day, photographing a theme or challenge that ties in with the overall camp theme of the week. The kids have an wonderful spirit and are extremely creative! It’s great fun exploring the campgrounds with them as they focus on the photographic theme of the day. The campers take a great deal pride in the images they capture. Joyfully displaying them on our “Wall of Fame” or taking them home to show family. For me, teaching the kids a new photography skill or a different way of looking at things, is incredibly rewarding.
When I’m not teaching a class at Sunrise, I love to roam the campgrounds photographing the daily activities of our campers. Sometimes it’s face painting or kids playing a spirited game of Gaga, other times it’s a genuine smile or a reassuring hug shared by a counselor and camper.
There’s always special moments to be captured. All of these images are donated to the camp. They are used for a variety of purposes including brochures, fundraising or simply for slideshows to entertain campers and staff. The thing that keeps me shooting though, the real reason I go back summer after summer, is the knowledge that my photos will be shared with the families of our campers. There is so much uncertainty when you step into this world. We need to cherish each and every moment. My images help preserve the memories of this magical place, for the kids and their families—forever. This is the purpose I’ve found here.
A wise man once told me (or maybe he told me three of four times) to find something special to photograph within 10 miles of where I live. The key that unlocked the gates to this place to me, is relationships I’ve built with the camp director, Deanna and my fellow photography instructors, who inspired me to get involved. The ironic part is that this camp, this wonderful place filled with love and emotion, is located no more than 100 yards from the front door of my business. I’ve passed by the front gate every day for years and never gave it a second thought. I knew there was a camp there but I had no idea just how special this place and it’s people, really are.
After applying as a volunteer, I vividly remember the day that Deanna, dressed in her light blue Camp Sunrise t-shirt, walked into my office for the very first time. She greeted me with a broad smile and a warm hug and proceeded to tell me about the Sunrise mission. She clearly understood how powerful and important the work they do at the camp is and how meaningful imagery could help tell their story. I knew I had to be a part of this and I’m so thankful that Deanna and the rest of the Sunrise family welcomed me with open arms.
It wasn’t until I opened my eyes and reached out through the connections I had with Sunrise, that I found the wonderful rewards that caring and giving could bring to my life and to my photography. I want you to know that, at first, I was terrified about doing this. The one thing that always makes me emotional and always tugs at my heartstrings, is a sick child. I didn’t know how I’d handle this aspect of working at Sunrise…I was worried that I’d be an emotional wreck!
Thankfully, I’ve been okay and it was actually the kids that have helped me conquer my fears. There are sick kids here for sure but for the most part, they are kids just like any other. Wanting to laugh, play and have a great time. They don’t let their situation define them and neither should I. My hope is that my efforts here and the images I’ve captured, bring joy to the campers, families and staff at Sunrise. If I hadn’t pursued this position, if I didn’t bother to build a relationship with this organization, none of this would be possible.
How do you build these relationships? Communication, patience and sincerity are a good place to start. These are always advisable in photography. Whether you are trying to build trust with a stranger you’d like to photograph, or you are looking to work with a non-profit on a long term basis; you’ve got to be forthright with your intention to help. There’s a natural tendency for people and organizations to be protective and conservative, when approached about new ideas. Be prepared to hear no. This is not always easy and will not always lead to a fruitful photographic opportunity, but when it does, it is always worthwhile. Try approaching organizations that do work that you, yourself, admire and can see yourself contributing to. This makes it easy to be sincere and will encourage you to be patient, as you truly do want to help.
Before long you’ll find a connection, build a relationship and do your good work for someone or some place. If you’re truly lucky, as I have been, you’ll find the magic in a child’s smile as she prints the photo she just took of her best friend at camp. She’ll have and will treasure that photo forever…just as I’ll treasure the memory of helping her create it.
Darin Reed is an avid photographer who dedicates his considerable talents to several non-profit organizations in the Long Island, NY area. He also is part of the leadership of the Huntington Camera Club. In 2015 Darin enthusiastically and ably assisted David Middleton at the Crossroads in Vermont Workshop. To see more of Darin’s photography and learn more about his work, visit his website, Shining Moment Photo.