Photographer Kelli Higgins on the art project that became a viral sensation.
My husband Daniel and I always wanted a large family, but when I was pregnant with baby number five, I felt a little guilty that we were growing our family while so many children out there needed a home. We talked about it, and a few months after our son, Harrison, was born we decided to look into adoption. A year later I received an email from a social worker with a photo of Latrell and his sister, Chanya. I couldn’t help but notice the forced smiles on their faces and knew that I couldn’t turn away, and my husband felt the same way. We adopted Latrell and Chanya.
Fast forward a couple of years. I was preparing for an upcoming newborn shoot. The kids and I sat at our dining room table, talking about what I needed to do to prepare. Latrell looked at me and said, “I didn’t have any photos like that taken of me when I was a baby.”
Ally, Latrell’s 12 year old sister, said, “Why don’t you do them now?” We all laughed at the thought of him in those cute newborn poses, and Latrell being one of those children who loves to dress up in crazy outfits and make people laugh thought it was a great idea.
The following day as we were getting set up for Latrell’s “newborn shoot” we were still laughing so hard. It was so much fun and the whole family, all eight kids, saw the humor in it. Latrell loved all the attention.
When we were through, I posted the photos on my Kelli Higgins Photography Facebook page because I thought people would think they were funny. A few days later I woke up and checked my email, and was shocked to find messages from so many different media outlets asking for interviews. Around the same time my phone started ringing non-stop. I checked the Facebook page and realized that the photos went viral. The days following were just a rush of adrenaline as we were dealing with interviews and still trying to maintain some sort of a normal routine for our kids.
I realized at that time that I had become a spokesperson for older children who needed to find a forever family. I felt obligated to answer every reporter’s questions so that I could spread the word. So many children in America age out of foster care at 18. They are given a very small amount of cash and are expected to go out in the world alone without a family to back them up. Who do these children visit at Christmas? Who sends them birthday cards? It’s never too late to find a permanent family.
As things have slowed down and I’ve been able to reflect on that time, I am very grateful that so many people saw the softer, sweeter message in those photos. You are never too old to need the love and security of parents. Every now and then someone will send me a message telling me that I changed their minds about adoption and are now considering a much older child than they were first preparing for. Latrell also felt special and important in his role of spreading the word about adoption.
And he is still as goofy as ever!
photos courtesy of the author