You could go alone to New Zealand, Mexico, Cuba, or…
Hearts Apart is a nonprofit organization that uses photography to help keep military families connected while they’re serving abroad. Volunteer photographers provide soon-to-be-deployed family members with portraits of their spouses and children that they can take overseas.
We connected with some Hearts Apart photographers to learn more about why they got involved, what a typical shoot is like, and why even though it’s not always easy, at the end of the day it’s a service they’re proud to donate their time to.
“As a country, we are calling for an ever increasing sacrifice from the men, women, and families that serve in our military,” says Doug Howell, who has been a Hearts Apart photographer since 2011. “I simply donate a few days a year to create portraits that help these family members stay better connected.”
But the task isn’t always that simple – shoots are often very emotional for the family, and the photographer. “Of course the worse case scenario is always in the back of your mind,” Doug says, “These might well be the last professionally created photos these families ever have.”
As for the process, it’s not just a matter of getting the right angle or lighting. “These sessions take a good bit more time than the average family photo session, because the service member is required to have their BDUs as well as a dress uniform for photos,” says Doug. “I have come to learn that those uniforms take a quite a bit of time to make picture-perfect.”
But Doug enjoys hearing the stories behind the uniforms. “We play show and tell first, and I get to learn about different aspects of this particular uniform or ribbons and medals.”
Eric Adeleye, another Hearts Apart photographer and veteran himself, heard about the organization through a co-worker and knew immediately how important these photos would be to service members.
“When I was on active duty, nothing like Hearts Apart existed. I’ve met many military families who say they have never been to a professional photographer before,” he says. “It means a lot to a service member to have a reminder of home when they are out in the field on deployments.”
But it’s not just about making those who are deployed feel good – the feeling is reciprocal. “Working as a photographer with Hearts Apart allows me to say thank you to the men and women who defend our country,” says Eric.
After the photos are taken, Hearts Apart shares private galleries with the families through their PhotoShelter website. Families select their favorites to be printed on nearly indestructible vinyl that the service member can keep with them in combat, with the reassurance that the images will survive in extreme situations. The families back home get a CD of the images, and the photographers who shot them get a sense of pride and fulfillment from bringing these hearts apart together.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Hearts Apart and how to get involved, visit www.heartsapart.org.