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The Hardest Shoot I Have Ever Done | Oliver The Strong

Most people that know Chasnie and I have heard that we struggle with infertility issues. We have gone through the pain of losing 5 unborn children through miscarriage and thankfully, our amazing son was brought to us via the power of IVF. Because of this, the loss of a child hits close to home for us, and we cannot fathom what it is like to lose a child you’ve been able to hold and fight for. So when our friends Ryan and Molly lost their 47-day old son Oliver, we instantly wanted to do anything we could to help them.

The story of Oliver starts mid-pregnancy when Ryan and Molly found out that he suffered from a congenital heart disease called DILV. More specifically, he suffered from a double inlet left ventricle. This meant that after Oliver was born, he was going to have a very hard battle ahead of him. So much so, that after the first 30 days of being alive, he had already undergone 2 open heart surgeries, one emergency heart cath, pokes, prods, IV’s, PICC lines and a slew of tests, scans, and transfusions.

Unfortunately, after 47 days of battle, Oliver passed away. The thing here is that within his 47 days of life, he managed to touch the lives of countless individuals. Nurses and doctors came in on their days off to check on him. During important procedures, countless people prayed for good results and a healthy recovery. People took turns praying for him in 15-minute increments so that someone was praying for him every second for multiple straight days. Within days of his passing, more than $20,000 dollars had been raised to help Ryan and Molly cover medical and funeral expenses. Because Ryan is also a wedding photographer and part of our local photography community, several local photographers worked together to build a gift basket from his “coworkers”. People came out of the woodwork in order to do whatever they could.

A few days before the funeral, I got a call from Ryan asking if we could document the funeral. We didn’t even have to think about it. The answer was basically, anything we can do to help, we are in. But the thing I didn’t think about was just how close to home this experience would hit.

Arriving at the funeral that day was a lot like any other shoot. We showed up early to get an idea of what we were going to deal. We also like to talk with the pastor about what we can and cannot do during the service. What I didn’t expect was to arrive right before a set of very personal moments. This was a time for close friends and family to say goodbye to Oliver before the service. A time to see him one last time before the casket lid was closed. To be in the room when a parent sees their child for the last time, or a sister says goodbye to their baby brother, brings up emotions you can’t dare to try and comprehend. The only thing you can do as the photographer is try to shoot through the moments. Ignore your feelings and capture what’s important. At one point I thought I had something wrong with my autofocus because the images just looked a bit blurry. It took a moment to realize my camera was fine, I was just crying.

After the church service, we left to go to the cemetery. The crazy thing about this day is that Arkansas had a huge set of storms come through. It rained for I think 5 days straight and was forecasted to rain for the next week. Yet miraculously, on the day of Oliver’s service, the storms broke and gave them a sunny day. Which is a good thing because so many people showed up that the tent wasn’t big enough to cover everyone. People stood along the edges in support of Ryan, Molly, their daughter Eleanor, and their entire family.

After everyone left, the sun broke through some clouds as Molly and her sisters looked to the sky. They ended the service by looking to where Oliver will live out the rest of eternity. They take great great comfort in knowing that Oliver is with his heavenly Father until they will meet again.

The very next day, the storms came back and continued as planned.

The Album

After editing all these images, we knew we wanted Ryan, Molly, and Eleanor to have something more than an online gallery of images to look at. We truly value the power of a printed image and events like this that have a story scream to be printed as an album. But we didn’t want to try and turn things into a sales session and convince them they needed to buy an album. So we decided this was something we wanted to gift them. We knew we wanted the album to have a Lion embossed on the cover (which my buddy Michael Stuart helped me create). This Lion is a part of a piece of artwork that represents Oliver and his strength and courage. We also wanted to have Oliver’s EKG embossed on the album box. This same EKG was used on a set of T-shirts that people wore to support Oliver during his fight.

Because of the embossing that we needed to be done, the album company we knew we wanted to use was Vision Art Books. I had never used them before so I reached out to my buddy, Jay Cassario, who is an ambassador for the company. Jay was a huge help in walking me through what I needed the emboss files to be. He also was great about responding to many texts asking questions. Jay also reached out to the head of Vision Art books and told them what we were trying to do and the story we were trying to print. After hearing the story, they graciously decided to donate the entire cost of the album. So huge thank you to them and all they did! Also, the album came out amazing!

I have to end this post with some gratitude to Ryan and Molly. Thank you for trusting us to capture these moments for you. Thank you for being a light to our heavenly Father. I know this has been hard for you as a family. But your steadfast faith has shown the strength and hopefulness that can only come from a relationship with Jesus.

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