Belle’s initiative is picture perfect


TRARALGON photographer Belle Chapman is providing cancer-affected families the
opportunity to capture treasured memories forever.
The owner of local business Belle Chapman Photography, this self-funded initiative known as Forevermore sees Ms Chapman meet up with families battling the cancer beast and takes them through a professional photo shoot free of charge.
Inspired by her own personal experience of losing her father to cancer at an early age, this project serves as a way to give back to the community and help provide some much-needed joy and relief to families currently going through an incredibly tough time.
Ms Chapman explained how the unique Forevermore venture began.
“Back when we were locked up in COVID last year, I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands as I had to close my main photography
business, and because this is something I have been wanting to do for a long time I decided to set up the Forevermore initiative and officially launched it in the middle of last year,” Ms Chapman said.
Now working in conjunction with her main business, she explained how the venture operates.
“So Belle Chapman Photography is my main business and Forevermore is an initiative of that so every person in the public who books a session allows me to gift a session to a cancer family,” she said.
“We aren’t listed as an official non-for-profit yet with the application still pending, so at the moment we are self-funded so donations and the paid sessions cover the costs of editors and other photographers who I have in Melbourne and Queensland.”
Leaning on her own personal experiences, Ms Chapman outlined the overall motivation behind the project and her passion for this worthwhile cause.
“I lost my Dad when I was five and he was 36 and unlike Mum I don’t remember the bad times, but also don’t remember the good so what I did was I built my own memories based off of the photos we had of him,” she said.
“As he started to lose his hair he shied away from the camera so we don’t have too many of them so my personal mission is to not let that happen to other people and try to get families when the diagnosis first comes through so they aren’t as afraid of the camera.
“Growing up through my career I always felt I was meant do something in this space, so when I started my photography business six years ago and had kids of my own it really dawned on me just how much those memories of my Dad meant, so that is really what drives me.”
Having now provided this service to 26 families over the past year, Ms Chapman said there have been a host of important lessons she has learnt through the process of photographing and getting to know these people.
“The fact that the images are as important to them as they were to me is something that has certainly surprised me, when I launched it I wasn’t sure it would be taken so positively because they are going through such a chaotic time and I thought I might be a burden, but the fact they are so thankful for me to be part of their journey has just been amazing,” she told The Express.
“A lot of people who have been through a journey have said to me that they regretted not getting their photos taken at the point of diagnosis, so I really took that on board as well and it was interesting to hear and think to myself that I wanted images of me and my Dad where he looked well – so it is nice to hear that it is what others want as well.”
In terms of highlights of the Forevermore journey thus far, Ms Chapman managed to pinpoint two extremely rewarding aspects.
“There are so many highlights, one family comes to mind from Drouin who I captured just after lockdown and they actually had me come back and photograph their 10-year vow renewal as well as an extended family session as well – so the fact that I have not only captured them at a pivotal time in their life but they have come back to me in the good times is very rewarding,” she said.
“More than anything though it is just seeing the kids and parents taking that one hour or so out of their life and just loving on each other is just amazing – the embraces and things I capture in these times are really special and make things so worthwhile.”
Another overwhelming part of the project is the touching public response she receives from cancer-affected families. Ms Chapman said hearing just how grateful they are for her service is something she values dearly.
“(Over the journey) there has been so much nice feedback and videos of people crying when they see the photos, which despite being very overwhelming, really fills my soul,” she said.
“I’m not going to lie, this is not an easy job – a lot of the families are around my age, the kids are the same age as mine and I kind of think this could be me going through this sort of thing, but I just treat them like a normal session and fall in a heap afterwards.
“You kind of realise that this is their life for these people and some of them cannot be cured, so to be able to help them in any way I can and for them to be so grateful – it is very special.”
Moving forward, Ms Chapman explained her hopes for the initiative as it continues to go from strength to strength.
“My plan is to have photographers in all states within the next couple of years, whether they are volunteers or paid it doesn’t really matter to me, I just want to help as many people as I can,” she said.
“I would also like to build a team to help with the back end in the office so I can go out and about more to meet the families and capture those moments – so that’s my goal for now and then following that I have this crazy idea of starting up a retreat here in the country where families can come and stay and have their photos taken over a whole weekend.”