Saturday night at Tapp’s Art Center in Columbia, a photo exhibit will open, featuring 50 models captured by 26 local photographers. Most of the models are taking their first turns in the spotlight. They are people of different ages, different races. They all have different stories. They are all beautiful. They are all strong. They might not look like the models you see in other exhibits, but they are more alike than different, and that’s why the exhibit was created.
The LOOK! Forward photography exhibit, developed by Family Connection of South Carolina, will showcase the beauty and strength of 50 children and young adults with disabilities and special healthcare needs. The photos truly capture the personalities of those featured and show how they are living full lives, allowing others to easily connect and see them with their hearts.
“This is personally and professionally one of the best projects I have ever been involved in,” said Padgett Mozingo, state communications manager for Family Connection. “As a mom of a thriving five year old – who happens to have Down syndrome – sharing her smile and the images of so many others is extremely powerful. Allowing these individuals a chance to shine raises awareness for our entire community and state.”
The exhibit begins Saturday at 6 p.m. with a special opening event at Tapp’s. Many of the photographers (who all volunteered their services for the project, giving a $40,000 value) will be on hand. Some of the photographers had worked with Family Connection before. Others were new to the cause, and shooting photos of those with special needs for the first time. All found the shoots to be labors of love, and the models to be just people, captured working at their jobs or enjoying their hobbies. The photos tell a story of humans, mostly children, learning like everyone else to be part of a community and discover their own passions.
“As a mom, and when talking to other parents, it seems common that we find ourselves wishing others would truly see our children – not the disability, not the limitations, not the challenges or hardships but the children themselves,” Mozingo said. “We long for others to see their strength, how hard they work, their joy and excitement, their desire to be accepted and included (and ours as their parents). The images we have to share draw attention to the children themselves – their smiles, their personalities, the many things they’re doing to live full, rich lives despite having to work a little harder than some children may have to.”
Saturday night’s event will include music, heavy hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction, and the first chance to see the work of all 26 photographers and all 50 models on display. Every penny raised supports the work done daily by Family Connection of South Carolina – serving families across our state with support and resources to help their children live full, rewarding lives. More than 54,000 families have been served by the organization to date. The exhibit will remain on display through the end of April at Tapp’s Arts Center and possibly travel from there.
I was invited to be one of the photographers for the exhibit, and working alongside Maddie Carff, I took photos of three young people who will be featured. I have been a journalist for most of my career. Portrait photography is newer to me, and working with kids even more so. I was excited, but nervous. I should not have been.
I watched a young woman working hard at her job at Palmetto Health Parkridge, hustling constantly, reluctant to pause even for a moment for photos. I watched another young woman excel in her karate class, standing alongside peers who have different challenges than her own and excelling while fitting in seamlessly. I met a young man who lives the same sport, soccer, that I’ve loved for longer than I can remember. He and I would seem to be completely different, but his Manchester City jersey and love of the game gave us common ground, and quickly we both were comfortable and just having fun.
An odd thing happened as I look back on my part in the project which will go on display Saturday. While I was shooting the photos and as we were editing, I never thought of Davis, Raegan, and Taylor as “kids with special needs.” They were, and are, just people. Just like me. Just like you. We all have our challenges, but we are more alike than different.
“Nothing changes your perspective on your own life and opportunities than experiencing the stories of others,” Mozingo said. “We’ve all walked challenging but rewarding paths. These 50 stories will change you – without doubt.”
She is absolutely right. Come and join us Saturday night and find out firsthand. Click here for tickets or more information.
Photographers who supported the effort are: Lionel Angevine; Nilsa Argemi; Lester Boykin; Megan Burgee; Ryan Burgee, Ryan Burgee Photo and Video; Maddie Carff; Carmony Corley, Carmony Corley Photography; Katie Hart, Palmetto Duo; Craig Hewitt, Craig Hewitt Photography; Lyndsey Livingston, Memories in Motion Photography; Elba Martinez; Tyrone McQueen, Lilly Mack Photography; Barbara Miller; LaRose Morgan, Photography by Larose; Dan Newbanks, Alchemist Imaging; Orlando “Opie” Patterson; Michael Rouse; Alexis Scwallier, Alexis Schwallier Photography; Stephanee Seay, Stephanee Seay Photography; Amanda Simpson; Rebecca Triplett, My Day Off Photography by Rebecca; Karla Turner; Twitch, Microcosm Photography; BifocalPhotography.com; Dr. Donald Wuori; and April Zafoot, April Zafoot Photography.
Sponsors as of March 22 include: Blue Cross Blue Shield of SC; Greenville Hospital System; Dentaquest; Molina Healthcare; Knights of Columbus Transfiguration Council #13713; Vital Care; Maguire Woods; Total Comfort; Abacus Planning Group, Inc.; Founders Federal Credit Union; Love Buick GMC; Bright Start; Windham Services; PDQ Columbia; Tijuana Flats Just in Queso Foundation; Mid Carolina Electric Cooperative; Thrivent Financial; Rish and Enzastiga; Bluestein Nichols Thompson & Delgado, LLP; and Palmetto Pediatrics. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Information is available at FamilyConnectionSC.org.