Photographers Capture Spirit of Kids in Need of Homes

So the "secrets" to which Schoeller resorted were the ones familiar to a lot of moms and dads. He laughed. He cajoled. He picked up Vincent and turned him upside down. And he got the shot he wanted, of Vincent and Courtney together, relaxed and smiling. "Old techniques," Schoeller laughed. "Nothing new."

Erica Berger shoots for People magazine. "The most important thing for me when I was working with them was to try to figure out very quickly what their mood was and then go with that," she said. "I had a little girl who was jumping all around. She's 4 years old, beautiful. So we took her in the ladies room and just let her look at herself in the mirror, and so everything just happened naturally."

Bergman went for action photos. "I just tried to get them to play," he said. "Then they kind of forget about the camera and the lights and all the people standing around, and I can capture them in a fun moment."

Joyce Tenneson, who has authored 10 books on photography and is known for her intimate portraits, gave priceless advice to her subjects: how to make a good impression.

"Don't be shy about your smile," Tenneson told Stephanie as she showed the 13-year-old how to open up her posture and body language. "You have to be accepting of yourself and have confidence that who you are is good enough. You don't have to hide."

In a moment of reflection after the photo session, Tenneson said, "You feel their destiny somehow hanging there, in the desire that someone will see that picture and fall in love."

"I was stunned at the emotional level of some of these children having just met a photographer and an hour later saying, 'Please don't leave me,'" said Feanny. "One little girl said, 'This is the best day of my life.' "

The idea for the Heart Gallery originated in 2001 in Santa Fe, where a local photographer suggested it to Diane Granito of the New Mexico Youth and Families Department. Granito arranged for the children to be photographed. Space was donated by the prestigious Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe, and 1,200 people showed up on opening night.

Walking into the room, Granito said, "You see dozens of children looking out at you. And you realize that the only thing that they are asking for is something that we take for granted: a loving family. It's really powerful."

Granito's pioneering exhibits inspired 60 Heart Gallery organizations in 45 states. In some places, the adoption rate after an exhibit is more than double the nationwide rate of adoption from foster care. A Parade magazine article about Granito in 2005 moved Feanny to recruit for a New Jersey Heart Gallery.

There also have been critics who worry that the concept could be interpreted as marketing the foster children. "That's an understandable concern," said Granito. "But my take on the Heart Gallery is really that it's not marketing children, it's marketing the idea of adopting from foster care."

"My mother was a social worker," said photographer Erica Berger. "I see what happens when children aren't brought out where people can see them. People forget about them. And this way, everybody can see what these children look like and they can't forget about it." Berger added, "I think that it's easy for a lot of people to criticize in that way, but no one has offered up any better alternative."

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