In this segment of our “Photographers Giving Back” series, we are so pleased to feature Christine Kufske who donates her time and talents to Smiling Eyes. To be inspired, be sure to read these other stories about photographers who are using their talents to give back:
Cancer sadly touches each and every one of us. Not always personally, but we can be affected by it via a good friend’s diagnosis, family member, colleague or even a pet’s diagnosis. I’ve witnessed what cancer can do, watching both my Dad and Nana fight it and beat it! Thank God! I was again challenged when a good friend’s newborn was diagnosed with Stage Four neuroblastoma at three months of age and a neighbor was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, you need to know I’m not the best cook so I was stuck with thinking what I could do to help. I so badly wanted to do something to give back, to fight back, to help! Photos I thought. I can give a photo shoot. I approached my neighbor and suggested we do a photo shoot ‘on me’, before she began chemo. (I had been an active photographer in the K-W area under the name of Click Photography for the past 2 years).
Both my neighbor and good friend thought it was a great idea and we arranged the shoots. I’m a pretty emotional person and I admit here that I did get emotional at the shoots. But you know what, that’s OK. We got the shoots done and I was very happy with the photos. What I was surprised about was how excited and thankful my neighbor and good friend were. It made me even more emotional but also got me thinking, ‘I need to do more of this’. This is going to be my way of fighting back without giving anyone food poisoning with my cooking.
My first plan was to come up with a name to call this project. ‘Smiling Eyes’, came to me pretty quickly. As a photographer, I am always focusing on the eyes. Through my experience no matter what stage the cancer was, there was always a constant: the love, the spirit, the faith, the courage and determination in the eyes of the person. ‘Smiling Eyes’ seemed appropriate. My next step was to share what I was doing on my website and blog.
My ‘Smiling Eyes’ project was in full effect and it was quickly becoming bigger than myself. This is when I realized I needed help and had to call out to fellow colleagues to see if they also wanted to donate their time and talent. I desperately wanted ‘Smiling Eyes’ to keep up with the demand. I hated having to turn people away. Six years later we now have over 30 photographers all over Ontario,volunteering their time. Without this amazing team, Smiling Eyes wouldn’t be where it is today.
Photographers join and commit to shooting 2 photo shoots a month. Due to the emotional nature of these shoots and also running full-time photography studios, I wanted the commitment to be realistic for everyone. The families contact us via the blog site where they can choose their photographer right from the team page and contact them directly or they can contact us at ‘Smiling Eyes’, and we will arrange a photographer for them. Every family receives a 1 hour photo shoot as well as the high resolution DVD of all their images, free of charge. Photographers must have at least 2 years of professional shooting experience behind them. A link on our blog site has been created for photographers to sign up if interested.
We also have rotating photographers that visit Toronto’s Ronald McDonald House photographing families once a month. We’ve also partnered with the Canadian Cancer Society and Make a Wish Foundation (South-Western Ontario division) as community resources, and OPACC (Ontario Parents Advocating Against Childhood cancer), creating a coffee table book that will be handed out at local clinics.
Many of my shoots over the past 6 years have been very emotional, but many have also been so life changing that I’m actually thankful that I was given the strength to meet this challenge. The courage, determination, love and passion, I witness amongst people and capture is very powerful. It makes you not sweat the small stuff and makes you realize what’s really important. I can honestly say that through my Smiling Eyes experiences I have be shaped into who I am right now.
Sheldon’s shoot was to date one of the most memorable and powerful shoots in my career. When he took my hand and thanked me I crumbled. Such a very proud man who is survived by his beautiful daughters and incredibly strong wife . It was an incredible honor to capture him with his family.
As I awoke this morning and realized the date, it brought me back to 1 year ago today, when you came into our home. It turned out to be 3 weeks before Sheldon passed away, but the memories you captured will live on forever. I wanted to thank you again from the bottom of our hearts and remind you how very special you are. Such a small gesture on your part, you may think, but it meant the world to us on that day (including to Sheldon), and it will continue to mean so much to us for years to come.
You are truly one of those angels God has put on this earth and know that if nothing else, it brings some joy and comfort into the lives of many who are unfortunately, at their ends of their lives.
Sabrina, Sarah, Mirabel, Jennaca and Blue
Christine Kufske is a full-time Photographer owner of Click Photography and founder of the Smiling Eyes Project. She is located in the South Western Ontario Area of Canada. Mom to beautiful twin 9 year old girls and married to her best friend. Christine loves human dynamics and is thankful everyday for the skills she has been given to create memories for her clients.