Giving back is in our Fotostrap DNA. In addition to empowering and equipping our community of storytellers, we were founded to help support the nonprofit Fotolanthropy, which uses film and photography to chronicle powerful true stories about those who have defied great odds. To be a part of something big and redemptive fuels our spirits, and we greatly admire individuals who use their time and talent to serve others. What's beyond inspiring is that we've learned about so many of you who do just that. In our new series The Golden Hour, we're excited to use our blog space to highlight photographers who use their camera for good.
Tell us about the mission of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS).
The Mission of NILMDTS is to introduce remembrance photography to parents suffering the loss of a baby with a free gift of professional portraiture.
How and why did you get involved with the organization and what is your role with NILMDTS today?
In 2011, my husband and I lost our firstborn, Zachary. We were fortunate enough to have a NILMDTS volunteer come take beautiful images of our little family. I got involved in 2013 as a Community Volunteer - helping with recruiting and dispatching photographers to sessions. I ended up taking on leadership roles, becoming the Area Coordinator for Seattle and not long after became the Regional Coordinator for the west coast followed by Volunteer Coordinator for US/Canada. In 2017 I left my career as an IT Auditor to be more present with my family and volunteer more. I ended up investing in photography equipment to start learning the craft. Then in February 2018, I was asked to consider interviewing to join the small staff and now I am the Volunteer Program Manager overseeing the worldwide volunteer program. I wanted to continue to serve in a volunteer capacity and was finally skilled enough (after being mentored by such wonderful volunteers) to apply as an Affiliated Photographer in April 2018.
Approximately how many volunteer photographers work with NILMDTS? What kind of training and resources do you provide for them regarding shooting and editing?
Right now, we have 1,147 active volunteers worldwide. 864 of them are photographers and 83 are digital retouch artists. We provide every new volunteer a wonderful online training resource that introduces our mission, standard gift and provides the preparation and support necessary to offer this service with compassion and confidence. When volunteers come on as photographers or digital retouch artists, we know they have the skills to provide quality portraits, as they go through an application process, so we are not training them with technical skills, however we do have wonderful retouching training (some videos and bi-weekly live lessons) and lighting course generously donated from Professional Photographers of America for anyone who joins as a community volunteer or assistant to photographer hoping to hone their skills, as I did, to become an affiliated photographer.
Image courtesy of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, Photographer Vicki Zoller
From your own personal experience as a volunteer photographer, beyond the actual photos, what are you giving to families experiencing tremendous loss?
Oh my goodness, so much more than just photos. Personally, I would never even have had photos if it weren't for some NILMDTS photographer across the country that was there for my sister-in-law's employer's sister because my sister-in-law was then able to suggest I see if NILMDTS was here in Seattle. As a parent going through the loss, I could manage looking into one specific resource but I was not going to look for a random photographer to come take pictures of my dead baby - to say it bluntly. So any photographer giving this gift on their own is a blessing but could be helping so many more families indirectly simply by being involved with NILMDTS. Not only do the families get the pictures, but they receive a beautiful free photo album from mpix, deeply discounted professional quality prints/canvas/metal from Bay Photo, if they want. Then there is the ongoing support so the family doesn't feel alone. They are connected with other families also experiencing this loss so they have a sense of community.
You are serving others, but tell us about what you are receiving in return?
I feel so much pride serving these families. It is truly an honor to be one of the few who gets to meet and dote on their sweet baby. Helping families love their child, no matter the circumstance, is truly a gift for everyone. And, quite honestly, besides that immense amount of pride, my photography, lighting and retouching skills have skyrocketed because of these unique sessions.
Images courtesy of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, Photographer Vicki Zoller
Can you share a story from your work with NILMDTS that is especially moving?
It is not my own session, but one of another photographer that was retold to me from the mother. They had lost their son and hesitantly agreed to having a photographer come. They didn't know what to do - what was normal - when you lose a child. They had not wanted to hold their baby and were having an especially difficult time until their NILMDTS photographer came into their room and gave them the permission they unknowingly needed to love on their baby. The mom told me that the photographer made it seem so normal and natural to hold, kiss and cherish their baby and they otherwise may not have. So they did and she told me her story through happy tears without regret. It's powerful. Like I said, so much more than just photos.
What advice would you give to a photographer who is considering volunteering with NILMDTS?
The biggest hurdle is knowing if you can emotionally handle it. Everyone thinks they could never do this. And of course, it is unimaginable to think there is a need - but there is! I would say, if you have the skills, there is no reason not to try. You never know what you cannot do until you try. If you only end up helping one family, that is one more family that could have been without precious images, one more family that might have regrets, one more family whose kids may not know their older sibling, one more family who is afraid to talk about it, or one more family whose child is dismissed and forgotten.
How can we/others support the work of NILMDTS?
You can support NILMDTS by volunteering in any capacity, however our biggest need is photographers and digital retouch artists - we couldn't do what we do without a vast group of volunteers and are very much in need of more. Check out nilmdts.org/volunteer for info. If you cannot volunteer, you can always spread awareness. Share frequently with others who may get involved, become an unofficial ambassador of our work. The more photographers who hear about NILMDTS, the more comfortable with the idea they become. We know it takes time to consider volunteering so hearing about it over and over helps. Then of course, we are always looking for donations to help the mission continue.