When photographer Angela Forker’s grandson was born a few years ago, she found a new focus: newborn photography. Though this speciality “started off as a fun little hobby,” it has since grown into a successful business, with Baby ImaginArt at the heart of it. This ongoing project builds wonderfully whimsical scenes around infants, transporting them to a delightfully creative world through the magic of photography.
What sets Forker’s baby photography apart is her focus on children with special medical needs in her Precious Baby Project. “It is my desire to spread hope and raise awareness for babies with special needs as I take stunning and/or fun photos of babies with various medical needs,” she admits. “I want to show the world that every baby is precious!”
In this inspiring series, Forker illustrates the resilience and strength that is born out of special needs. In order to prove that all life is nothing short of a miracle, she does not conceal the tiny tots’ conditions; instead, she highlights their differences “to raise awareness for the beauty of life,” medical tubes and all.
This series has seen massive success—and not just with her subjects’ proud parents. Many hospital clinics and maternity wards across the country have opted to adorn their walls with Forker’s fitting photographs, spreading her inspiring message and reminding families in similar situations to stay hopeful.
We recently had the chance to speak to Forker about the Precious Baby Project. Read our exclusive interview below to find out more about her amazing work.
As a photographer, have you always been interested in capturing portraits of newborns?
Everyone thinks I’ve been a newborn photographer for many years. To be honest, though, I’ve only been a professional newborn photographer for less than four years.
My husband and I were missionaries to Italy when my first grandson was born. I started taking his photos and what started off as a fun little hobby has turned into a passionate business that has gotten great attention! I specialize in newborns and babies. It was my newborn grandson that got me hooked and I believe that is where my heart will always be!
Your amazing series, the Precious Baby Project, spreads awareness through creative photoshoots. What are some examples of the medical conditions you’ve spotlit?
I try to include great diversity in the Precious Baby Project. This includes cultural diversity as well as medical conditions. This is only a partial list of some of the medical conditions: Trisomy 9 Mosaic, Down syndrome, brain injury, blood clot/arm amputee, Schizencephaly, various heart conditions, brachial plexus injury, Goldenhar Syndrome, 7th nerve facial paralysis, cerebral palsy, Kagami-Ogata syndrome, spinal muscular atrophy, and lissencephaly.
How do you come up with the imagery featured in your adorable Baby ImaginArt scenes? Do you have any particularly memorable photoshoots?
The scene of the “Forget-Me-Not Fairy” is especially sad and beautiful. Her parents contacted me saying they were told their baby might only have 6-12 months left to live. It was important to me to create a scene that would help them remember her life. Her name is Ellis Rose, so I incorporated roses. She is such a blessing to her family (who chose to adopt her specifically because she has special needs!), so I thought it would be special to have her watering love wherever she goes. And of course, she is a Forget-Me-Not Fairy, because—even though she may be leaving them soon—she will never be forgotten.
[continued] The scene of the baby walking a tightrope in the night sky is called “The Brightest Stars.” I was inspired by John Green’s quote: “The darkest nights produce the brightest stars.”
When this little guy’s mother, Lydia Leinbach, was still pregnant, she saw my work for the Precious Baby Project displayed at her OBGYN at the local hospital. She wrote to me saying, “This morning I had my appointment at this office where your artwork was hung, and it instantly brought a smile to my face and reminded me that while my baby might have a defect, he is still perfect and will only bring joy to my life. Thank you so much for sharing these photos!”
We immediately started planning her session after her baby had recovered from open heart surgery. Since her baby was born with only half of a functioning heart, I decided to make a constellation of stars around him in the shape of a heart, but left the heart incomplete. It has been a dark night for this family, but this precious baby boy is their brightest star!
[continued] “Fun with Friends” is a perfect example of how I take a baby’s condition into consideration and try to incorporate it into the scene. This baby girl has Spina Bifida and bilateral clubbed feet, which makes her body naturally bend in a “V” so I tried to think of something that would work with her body bent. Flying into the air from a seesaw was the perfect scene for her!
[continued] For the scene, “Mended Heart,” the baby boy had undergone one heart procedure and was getting ready for his first open heart surgery. I wanted to include a lot of symbolism for CHD (Congenital Heart Disease), so I incorporated the colors red and blue throughout the scene as well as a CHD tree with the awareness ribbon. Since this baby’s heart is still in the process of being mended, I decided to add a bear sewing his heart with love, with the stitching not yet complete.
[continued] My most challenging session was the “Love” scene. This baby’s medical condition is so complex that I had no idea how I could incorporate all of his tubes and wires. It finally came to me to place them down his body and have them come back up, forming the letter V in the word love. What I thought would be too simple of a scene ended up being by far the most popular scene I have ever created. Grown men have been moved to tears when they have seen that image.
[continued] The one scene that best describes the Precious Baby Project is the “Hope is in our Genes” scene. Since this is the motto for rare disease awareness, I thought it would be fun to have this adorable baby boy with Trisomy 18 and 2 bear friends, all wearing jeans and flying away with some balloons made out of jeans that spell out hope. I also created a “gene tree” made out of jean material and shaped to look like genes. Whether it is at the local YMCA or the different clinics at the hospital where these canvases are displayed, the “Hope” scene is always the largest, central piece of the collection.
[continued] The gratitude from these parents is overwhelming—especially from parents of babies who have a terminal illness. The mother of the beautiful baby in the “Joy Power” scene wrote to me these very moving words, “I know some day (hopefully not any time soon) those memories and photographs will be all I have so I want you to know how important the work that you do is to me and other parents with special needs children with terminal illnesses. Thank you.” Her words drive me to create scenes with great meaning for parents of babies who are terminally ill.
What challenges has this project presented?
One of the greatest challenges that I face with this project is trying to balance my time. Every session takes approximately 20 hours of my time. (It takes 4-10 hours just to create the scene!) It is a delicate balancing act trying to do my paid work while also working on this project which is so dear to my heart.
What do you hope for the future of The Precious Baby Project?
My hope is that this project will go on indefinitely. I want to be able to touch as many lives as possible: both the participants as well as people who see my artwork.
I believe these babies’ photos have a great purpose in this world. I hope to see them displayed in other locations, like they are at our local YMCA and several clinics at our hospital. I also think that if they were in books, they would have the power to change how people—both young and old alike—see babies with special needs. I think I’m redefining beauty. I’m wanting to show people that if you look deep within people you will find a new kind of beauty—a captivating beauty—that touches you deep inside your heart.
These babies and I are on a mission: We want to show that world that babies with special needs are beautiful, while spreading hope and joy!