Natalie Panter – An Unsung Heroine

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Meeting clients for the first time is always nerve-racking; even for someone like me who prides himself in his ability to engage with people and form connections in a limited space of time.

The success of my family sessions really depends on my ability to engage with each person and if I can’t do that then the session isn’t one I remember fondly.

I was introduced to single mother Natalie through Pippa, a former client whose photographs I’d taken before Christmas and quickly learned that this session would be different from any I had done so far.

First, I learned that 3 out her 5 of her children (Deejay, Chrissie and Angel) were adopted with Angel being born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a disability which severely affected her speech. Her other 2 (Destiny & Keaton) were her own biological ‘miracle babies’ with each child being born both through very challenging circumstances.

Second, I learned that I had very limited time – less than 2 hours to photograph multiple combinations of the five family members. Add the fact that Natalie and I had never met and that all of our communication happened through Pippa, I braced myself for the challenges that lay ahead. I knew I had to engage the children from the outset, and with all families, was unware of their dynamic and how they engaged with each other. I planned the shoot – brainstorming my combinations and lighting set ups and waited for the bell to ring.

…she shook my hand and told me her name.

I was met by a smiley Natalie carrying Keaton and Deejay, a handsome 6 year old boy who giggled as I repeatedly faked his high five. His laughter meant that I’d instantly won him over and Natalie’s smile meant she was delighted. As we sat in my lounge to discuss the shoot and learning that Deejay was a superhero and videogame nerd (a boy after my own heart) I knew the rest would be easy. The PlayStation was used as a reward for cooperating with me and we had a blast.

Then there was Destiny.

She was utterly delightful, mature and deeply caring with her adopted sisters.

In my experience, photographing teenagers (particularly girls) can be a challenge because they can be painfully self-conscious and insecure. Thankfully, Destiny, 15, was happy to get involved despite feeling a little nervous. When she commented on my size (I’m 17st and rising), I knew we’d had a connection and spoke about…music and boys. She was utterly delightful, mature and deeply caring with her adopted sisters.

Photographing families gives you a brief glimpse into their lives and with this family, I kept getting distracted by just wanted to watch them be. Princess Chrissie, though shy, posed proudly with her rose, Angel sparkled even brighter when she saw how beautiful she looked on camera and Destiny left a lasting impression on me with her willingness to get involved, be silly and support her mother.

Then there was Natalie.

Here was somebody with the odds firmly stacked against her getting up each day to face its challenges head on

As a man raised by a single parent with two siblings, I hold a deep admiration and respect for single parents – particularly mothers. I have friends who face the challenges and joys of raising one or two children alone and often wonder how they do it, but to raise five? Five children aged between 13 months and 15 years old? 5 children with varying and complex needs?  As I went through my shot-list and spent time with this beautiful family, I felt the deepest admiration for Natalie – this unsung hero doing her best with what she had to raise children who were funny, charming, respectful and beautiful, both inside and out.

Here was somebody with the odds firmly stacked against her getting up each day to face its challenges head on – a living, breathing embodiment of determination, sacrifice, perseverance and unconditional love.

As a photographer I simply wanted to capture this – a family brought together by circumstance but held together by love, laughter, discipline and loyalty. It was a privilege.Until the next time