I met Jason last fall when I started doing CrossFit. I noticed him one Saturday morning, not because of his impressive weightlifting skills (though impressive they are), but because he strolled into our gym pushing a stroller. People don’t normally bring their kids to the gym. Sometimes, but rarely. As soon as I saw Lucia—the girl in the stroller and in these photos—I felt the whole energy of the room shift. I saw at least three people stop what they were doing and approach her, leaning down to give her a kiss, say hello, or pat her head. Everyone seemed to smile a little bigger.
It’s easy to look at Lu and see that something is different. She’s legally blind so she doesn’t make eye contact. But even without sight, her striking blue eyes are electric.
Over the course of the next few months, I watched as Jason brought Lu to class, stopping mid-workout sometimes to adjust a bottle or whisper something to her. He took her on runs when they were incorporated in the workout. And I began chatting with her each week, fascinated by this smiley dad and his sweet daughter.
Then this spring, I signed up for a documentary photography retreat and we were given homework: photograph a family in a documentary style for two hours. I didn’t know Jason well. I had never met his wife or his other daughter. But I knew I wanted to photograph Lu. I waited on the idea for at least a month. I chickened out at one point, offering the session to a different family that I knew a little more. When they said no, I knew it was because I was supposed to ask Jason.
Lu was diagnosed with Pallister Killian Syndrome two weeks after she was born. Less than 300 children have been diagnosed with this disease in the entire world. The level of care Lu and other PKS kids need is life-altering for a family. But the Dawkins seem as if they have never skipped a beat.
Yes, their life is full of therapy appointments, special equipment, and meeting dietary needs. But they go through it as other parents go through the motions of getting their kids out the door in the morning. Jason and Juliet live this life smiling. They approach their children with equal love and care, honored to be their parents.
I told Jason once that their story is so special. And he said, “Ours? No … Lu’s is special.” There is a joy in them that is a little brighter, an appreciation for life that is a little deeper, and a kindness that is much stronger than most families I know.
At the retreat, our instructors talked about the importance of long-term projects for photographers. They each had a family or individual that inspires honest work and that they return to year after year to remind themselves of why they make pictures. When they saw my files of Lu and her family, they both agreed that she could and should be the person in my life that inspires my best work.
In just two hours, I saw how much dignity there is in Lu’s life and how her parents have created an open environment where she can impact others. I feel humbled to have been invited into their home, and I’m ecstatic to show them how inspiring they all are. I can’t wait to watch both Lu and Scout grow and how their roles shift within their family. I’m excited to see Lu’s story reach even further and hear more about how she changes the lives around her.
Thank you, Jason and Juliet, for trusting me and allowing me to document this season of your lives. I hope we can all to do it again soon!