Friday, December 22, 2006

From Daily Messenger 12/17/06

Photographers provide 'something to hold on to'

Messenger Post Staff
Posted: Dec 17, 06:00 AM EST
Portraits are offered, free of charge, to parents of children who die in infancy.
CANANDAIGUA, NY — Without exception, everyone Steve Chesler tells about his newest venture is taken aback.
Repelled, actually, might be a better word for the reaction the Canandaigua photographer gets.
Chesler himself had a strong reaction when he first heard about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a Colorado-based non-profit organization that attempts to help parents who lose babies in early infancy. Free of charge, photographers volunteer their time to provide families with portraits of their children. Often taken in hospitals — just before and/or just after life support is removed — the portraits are meant to help the parents remember their child and continue, for years to come, to acknowledge his or her brief life.
For Chesler, the premise stirred up many emotions at once.
“How could (photographers) do that, and how could they not?” he said. “It’s giving the family something to hold on to and cherish for the rest of their lives.”
The organization was founded after a couple named Cheryl and Mike Haggard made the decision to take their 6-day-old son, Maddux, off life support on Feb. 10, 2005. Mike Haggard called Expressions Photography because he had seen owner Sandy Puc’s portraits of babies displayed at the Denver hospital. Puc and her staff accommodated the Haggards’ request for photographs of Maddux and also provided a DVD, set to music.
Afterward, Cheryl Haggard joined Puc in co-founding Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
Now its regional coordinator, Chesler first learned of the organization at the annual conference of Wedding and Portrait Photographers International earlier this year in Las Vegas. “What piqued my interest was the brochure they had — how tasteful it looked. And it was an idea I’d never thought of,” he said.
Once other people see the photographs that are taken through the non-profit, he added, they are not quite as uneasy about the idea.
“Almost everybody I’ve tried to explain it to didn’t understand it. Anybody I’ve shown the Web site to, did,” he said.
Still, Chesler admitted, “it’s a touchy subject. It’s all about somebody’s personal interpretation of it.”
A Long Island native and former Daily Messenger photographer who has owned his own studio for almost eight years, Chesler is the father of an 8-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy. He and his wife have never experienced the loss of a child, but he can empathize.
“The second that baby comes out and you hear that cry, it’s life-changing,” he said, adding that if a baby lives only a short time — and even if a baby is stillborn — that child is forever a member of the family. “That’s a huge loss that is incomprehensible,” he said.
Chesler recently contacted Thompson Hospital to make officials there aware of the service he is offering. He also plans on contacting other hospitals serving the Finger Lakes.
Amanda Padgham, a Farmington-based photographer, has done the same. She is involved not only with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep but with a similar initiative by the American Child Photographers Charity Guild.
In addition to being a photographer, Padgham is a pediatric nurse and a mother of two. She has helped a couple of families, including one in Batavia that was told — prior to the birth — that one of their twin girls had a chromosomal abnormality and would not survive long. The baby lived three weeks.
It was a difficult job, Padgham said, but she feels blessed to have two healthy kids and wants to give back.
“I think it’s important that there are people who will be there for the families and, as uncomfortable as it is, give them something they can remember,” she said.
As of yet, Chesler has not taken any pictures for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. “It’s an honor to be able to offer this service, but I’m not looking forward to it,” said Chesler, who has helped other photographers affiliated with the organization digitally touch up their photos of infants.
The photographers have an online forum, Chesler noted, where they can not only exchange technical advice and tips on tasteful presentation of their subjects but offer emotional support. “We’re all there for each other,” he said.
For more information, visit or www.acpcg. com.

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