Angela Forker’s decision to photograph babies who have special needs was, in her words, “dropped into my heart.”
She started dabbling in infant photography when a grandchild was born six years ago. Forker admired the work of photographer Adele Enersen and started experimenting with similar elaborate backdrops. The backdrops are actually floor displays in which a baby (usually not yet walking) is strategically placed in a fanciful scene. She did a series of these special photographs with her grandson, but soon realized they were too time-consuming to offer as part of her photography studio business. It didn’t make business sense.
But that idea would come back around. In 2017, Forker and her husband Rick – a pastor at an Indiana church - knew a couple whose infant daughter had overwhelming medical problems and was not expected to live very long. Forker was able to make some photographs of the baby during the early days of her short life. The circumstances were far different from a typical photo session with a healthy newborn, and yet there was still joy to be had, Forker said.
“Little Madalyn came into the world looking a bit different than other babies, but you just couldn’t help but fall in love with her.”
Forker said she reflected on the experience and then felt called to reach out to families who had babies with special needs. Her photographic mission filled a void. These parents adored their children despite their physical differences and medical necessities, like tubes and devices. They longed to have professional photographs that captured their babies at this early stage of life, but approaching a typical photographer could be intimidating. They’d have to explain the tubes, or why a child couldn’t sit up for the photo.
Forker would create scenes in which the babies were lying down and she would involve the parents, asking them to place the babies, ensuring they were comfortable and safe. Nothing is impossible in these photographic worlds: a baby floats aloft in the basket of a heart-shaped hot-air balloon; a superhero child raises a fist in the air and her cape unfurls behind her; a fairy baby hovers over an enchanted rose garden and a little girl chases behind a giraffe in the jungle, holding on to its tail.
Forker does not charge for the portraits, which now hang in obstetric offices, hospital clinics and at places like the local YMCA. Her work has been featured on CBS News as well as international news outlets. Most importantly, parents proudly share these photos, helping to remove the stigma associated with having a child who isn’t perfectly perfect.
“Some had never shown their baby’s photo on social media,” Forker said. “These parents were not ashamed of their babies. They were simply trying to protect them from people’s cruel words.”
The Precious Baby project represent a wide range of conditions, including several rare diseases. A favorite photo shows a little boy helping a zebra with its stripes. The zebra is an important symbol for the rare disease community. Learn why.
Some families have traveled three hours or more to bring their child to a studio session with Forker. She does about two Precious Baby portraits per month and her website invites parents of special needs kids to get in touch.