Erin Brundige wanted to get her baby daughter’s professional photographs and brought her to her local department store. The appointment was for her baby, so she didn’t bother to fix her hair or put on any makeup. But the appointment took an incredible turn, and she knew that the story needed to be shared with moms everywhere.
I wasn’t expecting to find an angel at a JC Penney photo studio, but it only makes sense that if I did, her name would be Penny. Let me tell you about her and the gift she gave me. Two years ago we brought my daughter in for photos to commemorate her first birthday. She looked perfect in a little pink and white dress. Our photographer, Penny, quickly proved to have skills beyond what you might normally expect to find in your average department store. In addition to being great with our daughter and getting amazing smiles out of her, her eye for a good shot was exceptional. We had photos taken here before, but Penny intuitively knew how to capture the most amazing shots and showcase our little girl’s personality.
Toward the end of the session, Penny asked me if I was planning to be in any of the pictures. Haha, yeah right. I had worn a ratty t shirt, a messy bun, and no makeup. I had zero plans to be in these photos. The truth was I had had a rough year. My daughter’s birth was traumatic and the emotional recovery was still ongoing. I struggled with shame over feeling like I had failed in having the perfect birth. I hadn’t lost the baby weight and was struggling with my confidence. I told Penny I wasn’t going to be photgraphed and we moved on.
As we looked over the photos and selected the ones we wanted to purchase, my daughter nestled into my shoulder and popped her thumb in her mouth, as she does when she’s getting tired. Penny looked at her and suddenly stopped with the photo selection. ‘Look at her eyes!’ she murmured, and then took my arm and said ‘come back here with me.’ She was taking me back to the photography room. I immediately started protesting about my total lack of preparation for being photographed, but Penny wasn’t hearing it. She steered me underneath the lights and whispered, ‘Close your eyes.’
So I did. I stood there with my eyes shut and held my daughter, who was still snuggled into me. In that moment I stopped worrying about how bad this picture was about to look and let my love for my little girl wash over me. I felt all the emotion of seeing her turn one and leave babyhood behind, and how incredibly blessed I was to be her mother.
I heard the camera click a few times, and then Penny came back over to me and looked me in the eye. ‘She doesn’t care what you look like,’ Penny said. ‘Someday she’s going to want pictures of you, and pictures of the two of you together. It doesn’t matter if you have makeup on or if your hair is done. Take the pictures for her.’
I realized she was right. I thought about the grandmother and aunt I had never met, both taken from their husbands and young children before the age of forty due to breast cancer. I didn’t want to always be the unseen person behind the camera and leave my daughter with no photos of me to keep my face from fading in her mind when I am gone. Whether that happened next year or in fifty years, she deserved my presence.
I keep this photo in a prominent place. It is my favorite picture, and the most precious gift I’ve ever been given. If it weren’t for Penny, it would never have been taken, and there would be no photos of me and my daughter at this age. Thank you, Penny, for giving me the gift of perspective. Your perspective, as a photographer and a person, is truly exceptional.”
Her sentiment hit home for a lot of parents who realized that they were usually behind the camera instead of in front of it. It was especially moving to people who realized that they didn’t have many photographs of their own parents who had passed away. Take the pictures, but be in them, too. 🙂
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