In her work as a family portrait photographer, Linda Brooks noticed a large gap in the ages of children she photographs. Parents commission pictures of their kids when they’re chubby-cheeked and adorable infants and toddlers, then often not again until they’re graduating high school or even getting married.
“There’s this skipped-over time,” Brooks says of those in-between years, “It’s a missed opportunity to celebrate who these young people are becoming. In many cultures, becoming a young adult is honored with different rituals, traditions and customs.”
When Brooks photographs a tween girl, she doesn’t see the awkwardness most people identify with early adolescence — she sees a talented, courageous young person undergoing big changes. To navigate that bewildering phase of life they need support, confidence and a strong sense of self.
To that end she created the Empower Sessions, a way to celebrate the tween years with a photo session highlighting a girl’s individuality and strength (a series for boys is in the works). The final portraits include quotes about the subject by family and close friends. A selection of these portraits, “The Empower Project,” can be seen at Chaco Canyon Organic Café throughout May.
In her work with tweens, Brooks draws on her experience as the mom of a 9-year-old boy and as an educator with Great Conversations, a program that offers classes on puberty, sexuality and parenting in partnership with Seattle Children’s hospital and Overlake Hospital Medical Center on the Eastside.
Brooks teaches parents and tweens to keep dialogue open.
“Kids may be at a time in their lives when they’re not wanting to be as inquisitive with their parents,” Brooks says. “But keep the conversation going anyway. Repeat messages about who you see them to be, their strengths. Catch them doing awesome things in their lives.”
The Empower Project is an extension of that ongoing communication process. Some of the subjects are girls Brooks first photographed when they were toddlers.
“It’s an amazing experience to witness their personalities unfolding,” Brooks says. “Even the confidence I see them stepping into during the [photo] session itself.”
“Conversations pass in the moment. To document this time in their lives and how people feel about them—that’s why people get portraits, to have a memory they can hold onto,” Brooks explains. “It’s really simple: these youth are saying, ‘See me. Help me see how awesome I am simply for being me.’”
See "The Empower Project" through May at Chaco Canyon Organic Café in Greenwood, 8404 Greenwood Ave. N.
It will be shown in June at Chaco Canyon’s West Seattle location, 3770 S.W. Alaska St.