Case studies of my ‘Portraits in Prose’ Commissions
Marissa and Paul
Marissa, 27, and Paul, 29, are expecting their first baby. They are full of anticipation, nerves and happiness. Hearing them rave about their first ‘Bump to Baby’ photo shoot, Marissa’s mum suggests a ‘time capsule’ ‘Living arrows’ commission to match.
Paul and Marissa love the idea and soon start answering a mix of questions. It’s so beneficial to take this time to talk together, understanding each other’s outlook more in the process. Since theirs will be the first grandchild in their families, I also involve their parents Teresa, Kim and Ian. All three relish the prospect. Once we’ve gathered the information needed for the first section, we take a break while Baby Lanahan decides if she’s ready to arrive.
2 weeks later, little Josie is here and each contributor sends their final ‘homework’ so I can finish writing. Together, we’ve created an extraordinary photo book account of this family’s transformation.
Elke and Ranjeev
Elke, 38, and Ranjeev, 36, have just become parents for the second time, welcoming baby Amira, a sister for excited big brother Toby, 6. Now their family is complete, they’d like to celebrate with a ‘Living arrows’ commission – a family portrait in words – though they’re also planning a photography shoot later. They decide to involve Elke’s parents, who live overseas, as well as Ranjeev’s siblings, who play roles in their day-to-day lives.
I begin by gathering information about Ranjeev and Elke’s experience of parenthood. They’ve learned, changed and shared so much, but rarely have chance to talk properly, so savour the opportunity. I also contact nominated relatives asking for their take on this happy family’s evolution. Toby says he’d like to have his say too.
The final framed text, the embodiment of all those emotions, realities and hopes, is something they can all delight in together, again and again.
Valerie and Pen
Valerie, 40, and Pen, 44, have wanted to become parents for as long as they can remember. Their adoption route hasn’t been easy, but now it’s confirmed their son Marcus can stay, it’s time to celebrate. A fabulous party is already in the planning, but they’d like a ‘Living arrows’ commission as a more permanent testament in words to becoming a family too.
We agree we’ll involve their families, a trio of closest friends and their Social Workers, James and Gail, who they’ve gradually become close to. Our aim is to create a narrative that helps Marcus make sense of his new family situation and for Pen and Valerie to take stock of all the recent changes in their lives.
Their album becomes a touchstone for them all as soon as they first share it together a month after his adoption is confirmed. It helps Marcus know where he belongs.
‘Look to this day’
Sophie and Theo
Sophie, 41, and Theo, 50, have 4 children between them: baby Olive, born just 4 months ago and Sophie’s daughters Katie, 8, Harriet, 10, and Theo’s son Isaac, 5. It’s a busy household and while the children have adapted well to their new family dynamic, there’s little time for reflection.
Theo and Sophie decide they would all benefit from a collective ‘Look to this day’ commission: something they can all contribute to, encouraging them to appreciate their extended family, as well as addressing any issues encountered along the way. They ask me to help tell their story.
Before long, we have input from everyone and whilst there is a lot of common ground, it’s the individual viewpoints that make their text truly theirs. By the end, we have an exuberant, tender and honest record of family life.
Like them, it is so much more than the sum of its parts.
Andre, Darryl and Jamal
Andre couldn’t be more proud of his sons: Darryl, 17, about to start college, and Jamal, 20, already at uni. Raising two boisterous boys as a single dad while working full-time hasn’t always been easy, but they’ve come through it. Darryl and Jamal know they owe their dad a lot.
Now the boys are embarking on adult lives, Andre considers how a ‘Look to this day’ commission might help them reflect how far they’ve come. Realistic about the likelihood of all being in the same place for long enough, he’s happy for me to contact the boys directly to gather their thoughts. He’d also like me to involve their grandmother, Bernice, a mainstay of family life.
Andre and Bernice soon realise they may have underestimated how much insight their boys have gained along the way. Their text, framed, proves to be a definition of what family means to them all.
Veronique and family
Not one member of Veronique’s family lives in the same country as another. Her elderly grandparent, parents and two sisters reside all across the world. It’s fair to say they’ve made Skype and WhatsApp their own since the last of them relocated.
Now that Veronique’s sister Charlotte is expecting a baby and inevitably missing close family support, they’ve all had cause to find new ways of reaffirming their relationships, albeit long distance. The result? A ‘Look to this day’ commission.
Modern technology means there’s no barrier to sharing ideas for the text, developing a structure and gathering the responses we need – and by creating their commission digitally, with the expertise of Charlotte’s husband Lorenzo, a graphic designer, we’re able to ensure everyone is able to access it freely and, if they want to, at the same time. The nature of the collaborative approach ends up epitomising its reason for being.
‘May your song always be sung’
Zara is losing sleep with excitement about becoming 10 in just 2 months. It’s been a big year all round: with a new little sister, Isobel, to get used to; a school move to contend with and her cousins Jack and Ella Grace emigrating to New Zealand.
Her parents, Sarah and Alex, decide a ‘May your song always be sung’ commission is an ideal way to celebrate all Zara loves and involve everyone who loves her most too.
The final version is a combination of theme and narrative so the contributions create one entertaining whole. Sarah and Alex then ask for photos too, so they can illustrate the final version with so many memories from the last 10 years.
Zara is uncharacteristically speechless when she sees her framed text for the first time on her birthday. She can’t know this then, but she will never grow out of enjoying it.
Vi and Albert
Vi and Albert will be celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary next year and their family couldn’t be more proud. They decide to mark the occasion with a ‘May your song always be sung’ commission as a very special and top secret present.
Albert and Vi’s children begin to collect the photos; they ask me to help create the text.
It’s a really valuable chance for rare family time: teenagers, twentysomethings and parents alike find themselves reminiscing together, putting into words an inheritance of love all too often taken for granted. There are funny stories to be told, but also wells of emotion that need a right way of expressing too. It’s a truly life enhancing experience for all concerned.
Albert and Vi are given their beautiful album on the anniversary of their wedding, 60 years before. They can’t believe the great care that’s been taken with such an irreplaceable gift.
Will is about to turn 21 and go travelling. Mum Heidi and dad Michael can’t believe it. It seems only moments ago he was coming home from school with muddy knees from football or throwing endless frisbees for the family dog with older brother Gareth. Now, he’s all grown up.
They want to give him something special rather than just buy more ‘stuff’, since he seems to have enough already, so as well as a Silverstone experience day they plan a ‘May your song always be sung’ commission.
As well as family, Gareth suggests they involve Will’s girlfriend Isobel, as well as a couple of his mates from home, since the family moved during Will’s A Levels and he doesn’t get to see them. As a result, our text and photos will track Will’s story from toddler antics…through his sports mad teenage years…to the cusp of a whole new world.
‘i carry your heart with me’
Alice and Ben
Alice, 28, and Ben, 32, got engaged on holiday in Thailand and once home they book an engagement shoot with a photographer to celebrate. To complement the whole experience they hire me to create an ‘i carry your heart with me’ commission.
They agree they’d just like to work on this with me together and so I begin gathering information, asking them to answer various questions in different ways. I then craft a portrait of their relationship in words: a narrative full of life, fun and emotion.
Ben and Alice are absolutely delighted with the end result. In fact, it’s become one of their favourite aspects of all their wedding preparation.
They decide to present their text in a beautifully bound book, kept next to the album that will soon hold their wedding pictures. Every anniversary, they will read their story again and be reminded of where it all began.
Lesley and Bryan
Lesley, 62, and Bryan, 65, feel ridiculous calling themselves ‘engaged’, if they’re honest. They’re delighted to be marrying, but since this is a second marriage for both and having grown up children with families of their own, they’d rather there wasn’t a song and dance about it.
Their children understand but also want to ensure their romance isn’t lost in the happy melee. Bryan’s eldest, Delia, gets in touch and together we design an appropriate ‘i carry your heart with me’ commission in honour of this special match.
There are so many unanticipated positive side effects: the contributors find it a lovely way of paying tribute to Bryan and Lesley, an opportunity to embrace the changes in family dynamics and a chance to understand their new step siblings better.
And the happy couple? Well they know the framed text was a hit when Bryan quotes it in his wedding speech.
Clive and Francis
Clive, 45, and Francis, 47, are planning to convert their civil partnership into marriage in a ceremony in Malta next year. After 18 years together, they’ve waited a long time for their commitment to be fully recognised in law and are so looking forward to sharing the all-important moment with their loved ones.
They’re not the only ones excited about the whole occasion of course and two of their closest friends, Nadiya and Will, decide on a ‘i carry your heart’ commission for this popular couple, inspired by the words and pictures of a select group who have known each other for nigh on 20 years.
The final cut is entirely apt, authentic and true to life and when presented with their photo book, Clive and Francis are overwhelmed. It’s the perfect way for those who love them to tell them so. It’s an ideal way to celebrate their union.
‘Sit. Feast on your life.’
There was a time Priya didn’t think she’d see 50, let alone be in the mood to celebrate anything, but if there’s one thing she’s learned after everything that’s happened to her, it’s to savour life. The ‘Sit. Feast on your life.’ commission could have been created for her.
As we agree the span and focus of the text together, choosing contributors and deciding on the right themes to explore, Priya begins to steer a very emotional course back through the last 3 years and beyond. The various family members and close friends she’s selected to be involved are so touched to be asked as well and ultimately it’s the wisdom of their words that really offer Priya acknowledgement, encouragement and succour.
The finished text sits in a beautifully inlaid box in Priya’s bedroom: part testament, treaty and talisman. It’s helped bring the solace she was looking for all along.
Owen and Kim
Twin brothers, Owen and Kim, can’t agree how to celebrate their 70th birthday. Owen, as ever, wants a party and Kim would rather be washing his hair – but disagreeing isn’t new. They’ve been arguing, laughing and there for one another all their lives.
Surprisingly it’s Owen who picks the ‘Sit. Feast on your life’ commission for them both. Putting feelings into words is more Kim’s thing than his, but he can think of no better way to show how much he does really value the strong bond between them.
70 years of such a unique relationship takes some exploring, but as we find our way back from their beginning, one thing is clear from the leather bound text. Their own distinct voices strike you immediately; so too the enormous amount they’ve shared together, in only the way they could have. It’s a remarkable celebration of sibling rivalry, resilience and love.
Angela appears to be in denial about The Big 60 but her husband Nigel is determined it’ll be a celebration to remember. It’s an ideal opportunity for her to be reminded of just what a great wife, mum, sister and friend she really is.
Together we design a ‘Sit. Feast on your life.’ commission that will knit all these aspects of Angela’s life together, Nigel selecting the best people for me to contact to gather the contributions I need.
Angela’s tribute begins to take shape and, as it does, Nigel takes some of his favourite lines and creates a framed copy for their kitchen wall. He knows that marking the occasion privately and these personal ways will mean more to her than anything.
Their son Luke takes the text and creates a photo book that brings the entire narrative to life. Both are gifts full of thought, care and love.
‘In the hearts of those you love’
Rick was a loving husband, father and brother and passed away from cancer last year aged 58. Understandably, his family and friends were devastated and are having a tough time coming to terms with their loss.
As the months have passed however, many have found great solace in expressing to each other just how much Rick meant to them. Realising the value of this process, Rick’s brother Mark contacts me about an ‘In the hearts of those you love’ commission and, with Rick’s widow Marnie’s permission, he selects close family and friends for me to work with. Weeks later, Marnie and daughter Charlotte decide they’d also like to take part.
Mark acts as consultant throughout and ultimately signs off on a photo book text he feels does his remarkable brother justice. When they’re ready, he presents Marnie and Charlotte with the most fitting of tributes to a much loved man.
Ruth and Nate
Ruth and Nate were two of the most beloved grandparents there can ever have been.
Having raised their four children they enjoyed watching their family grow further, relishing every addition. Their passing left a void impossible to fill, but their loved ones are glad they created the happy memories with them they did.
Much of this shared experience is out of reach of Nate and Ruth’s youngest grandchildren and so their daughters Genna and Zoe pick a ‘In the hearts of those you love’ commission so their children, nieces and nephew can ‘meet’ Nanna and Gramps anew.
A family affair, everyone gets to have their say and a vivid picture begins to emerge.
When our finished text is ready, Ruth and Nate’s family get together for a read through, their grandchildren turning to their story time and again. The hope is that one day, their children will do the same.
Izzy was only 19 when she was killed in a road accident in 1995. It had been so important to her to have her independence, so it always seemed doubly cruel that’s the way she died.
Izzy’s sister, Gail, and brother, David, were only secondary school age at the time, but now they’re in their 30s and with families of their own. Izzy is never far from their thoughts, in fact Gail’s daughter shares her middle name with her aunt, but it’s hard to find time, particularly with their parents, when they can all talk properly.
They decide an ‘In the hearts of those you love’ commission will give them space for their thoughts to be turned into words before sharing them, allowing the privacy they need whilst encouraging them to share. The resulting bound biography is more than a text. It is the cathartic coming together they so needed.