Using #PhotographyForGood in the Face of Childhood Cancer

By Vicky O'Connor

Life threw my family, like many others, a few curve balls. In 2002 my eldest daughter was diagnosed with a heart condition so underwent open-heart surgery at the age of eight. Her little sister by this stage was nearly a year into her treatment for an Ependemoma Brain Tumor diagnosed as a two year old. Then my second eldest was diagnosed with a Spinal Tumor. I am lucky to be able to say that today, I am the very proud mother of four beautiful grown up daughters as many of the families we journeyed with tragically lost their children.

Emily as a Ballerina (That was on one of the calendars Vicky produced to raise funds)

When we find ourselves in situations where we are out of control of our circumstances, I think, subconsciously we search for ways to restore it. Fundraising for research for child cancer was my way of feeling in control again. I couldn’t bring my friends children back, or lessen their pain or grief but I could raise funds for research which would at least be a sustainable and productive long-term way of helping future families to endure this tragic journey.

However if I was to be honest and selfish, at the time of my daughters treatment, I just wanted to do something that could mean that if she ever relapsed, we would be years ahead with research and we might have choices.

"Emily and I just before her last MRI scan." by Vicky O'Connor

My fundraising efforts and using my #photographyforgood all started with the making of a photographic card. The photo was of a bumblebee on a flower. I captured this image in the Christchurch hospital gardens the day I learned that my friends little girl had passed away. There is a beautiful photo of her in a fancy dress costume as a bumblebee and it reminded me of her. When my own daughter completed her treatment for a brain tumor, I gave some of the doctors and nurses this bumblebee card to thank them for all they had done.

"Our wee bumblebee" by Vicky O'Connor

"Our special wee Bumblebee who is the original reason I picked up my camera. Go to my blog to read why."

On our return home, after spending 18 months at the hospital, I started taking photos of all the little things in life we so often miss. This evolved into making a lot more photography cards. 100 percent of the profits went to the Children’s Cancer Research Foundation (now called the Children’s Cancer Research Trust). The first purchase they made for their Research lab then based at the Christchurch hospital was a fax machine, then a fridge. It grew from there…

A one off fundraising event was not a life term event, and Cancer is just that!

I went on to produce three calendar designs featuring children with cancer in a positive way, making them all from my home. However there were many people helped along the way and without them the project never would have happened. John Kirk Anderson was the photographer - I had the idea, concept, and theme organized but not the camera or photography skill. John said to me at the time 'one day, you need to do this yourself'! Rachael Geddes, one of the nurses in the Christchurch Child Cancer Unit was involved right throughout, she co-coordinated the children and their families. Of course, the children and their families were the real stars of the calendars and we raised over $200,000 with these calendars.

Emotion and passion and I guess grief for my friend’s pain for their children drove my fundraising projects. I promised I would never forget their children and I never have.

When I was in a position where I could I donated 100 percent of everything I raised, I did. But today my circumstances have changed and so I advertise my work as 10 percent being donated to the Children’s Cancer Research Trust. Some of my clients choose to donate more directly to the trust, so my photography is also used for advertising and raising awareness.

I don’t make many cards these days as it is hugely time consuming and very costly, instead I spend hours every day planning and communicating. I do a lot of unpaid photo-shoots for a variety of reasons - Instead of charging for images taken at some events I ask people to donate to the Children’s Cancer Trust. The time it takes to locate, edit, email, and send images, as you can imagine, eats up your day but it is a great way to raise some extra funds as often people add on a little bit more.

By Vicky O'Connor

My main mission for the future is to continue to do what I do, being consistent with my work in raising awareness and funds and using my photography as a visual to communicate my messages. However, I would like to up-skill technically to see where this may lead me and to learn to navigate and use social media more productively!

Project wise, I have so many ideas whizzing around my brain but project number one is for Breast Cancer Awareness in May. I have a little old pink Morris Minor car called Petunia parked in our paddock. I'm planning to give her a scrub up for a champagne breakfast and fun fashion photography shoot for some local ladies with donations from the day going to the Brest Cancer Foundation.

For people who are reading this and feeling inspired to raise funds by using their #photographyforgood I say find your WHY - Once you have that passion and emotion it will drive you.

My other top tips are:

  • Gather positive people around you, the ones who will gladly help you.

  • Use the different skill set and contacts that those people have.

  • Don’t be too precious, you are not the only one who has something to offer - micromanaging will just leave you exhausted.

  • Look for the gaps in the market and do something different to what others are doing.

  • Only listen to the positive feedback from others - Don’t get distracted by the millions of opinions or you wont get anywhere except overwhelmed.

Emily and Vicky celebrating Emily's 21st Birthday in Mexico, after climbing the Aztec Pyramids, 2019

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