We first learned about the work that Christie Zink of Elan Images was doing when Courtney Roth shared beautiful photos that Christie took of Courtney and her son Tripp. It was a beautiful, intimate look at a mother and her child who had been through so much together and who clearly shared such a deep affection and love evident in the images. We began to see more work from Christie when she launched a nonprofit This Little Light and began photographing other children with their families who lived with EB every day. We have been impressed with this talented photographer, wife and mother of three from Minnesota who continues to discover new, creative ways to touch the lives of many and raise awareness about EB and the need for research funding.
We recently talked with her and will be featuring excerpts from that conversation this week and next week. In part I, we asked what led to her involvement within the EB community and, in particular, her decision to launch This Little Light.
EB Resource (EBR): How long have you been a professional photographer?
Christie Zink (Christie): I did it on the side for a long time as a hobby. When my son was born in 2006, my husband and I had made the decision that I would not go back to work, that I would stay at home, and it gave me the opportunity to play around with photography a little bit. It did not occur to me until my second son was born that I should make this a business. It had always been something that I wanted to do, just never thought that I could. I started to do a little bit of everything – weddings, events – but over the last year or two, I decided that my passion was really with children. There’s something about photographing children – they have this innocence about them and their personalities. It brings me so much joy when I look at the images and also when you have a parent who is overjoyed that you are able to capture everything that they think their child is.
EBR: You mentioned having a second son, too. You have three children, right?
Christie: I do. Ethan is going to be six in September, Noah will be four in September and my daughter Sydney will be two.
EBR: Do they understand what Mom does for a living and your work with EB families?
Christie: Oh yes, Ethan and Noah absolutely get it. If someone asks them what Mommy does, both of them would say, "Mommy takes pictures and she really cares about epidermolysis bullosa." They definitely know what Mom does and what her role is. They have their own cameras and they like to take pictures and get creative that way. It’s fun to watch.
EBR: Tell me a little bit about how you were first introduced to EB.
Christie: I think most people would love to be able to make a difference or have a positive impact somehow. I have some friends of mine who live in the South, and their daughter went to school with a girl named Courtney Roth, who had a little boy Tripp, and I went out to his prayer page and discovered that she had this boy who was sick. I didn’t really know much about it, but I stumbled across her blog and took the entire night and read the whole thing. In that moment, I knew that this was something I needed to become involved in, so over the summer, I got in contact with Courtney because I felt compelled to reach out to her. I finally got the opportunity to visit in October. A few people from Louisiana had contacted me to help coordinate a fundraiser and it was amazing. I brought my camera with and I asked her if I could photograph Tripp, but I was going to do it just for her. It wasn’t my intention to take pictures of him to share but to do it for her. I had the opportunity to be there during a bath and a bandage change, and I felt a huge connection with him.
When I came home, I talked with my husband about this and said I know I can make a difference. I discovered that in Minnesota there was an organization, PUCK, that was funding research being done here for people who have EB. I had no idea. I didn’t even know EB existed before knowing Tripp. The director of PUCK contacted me one day and I threw out at him what I wanted to do, photographing the children and their families, and started to introduce myself to people. I know now when people are coming to Minnesota. I work with the kids who are at the hospital here getting their bone marrow transplants.
Often, people say they felt called to do something and I always thought they’re just saying that, but now I know what they mean, because every single thing has fallen into place like it’s meant to be. I often wondered why I’m in this cold state, and people always tell me because that’s where these babies are. I’m meant to be in Minnesota. I’m meant to be here to photograph them.
EBR: So when did you formally launch This Little Light to begin photographing these children and their families?
Christie: Around November of last year, right after I’d come home from my Louisiana visit.
EBR: Do you know how many families you’ve had an opportunity to photograph?
Christie: Six. I’m very excited because I’ll have an opportunity to meet more families in Orlando for the Patient Care Conference in July-August. Connecting with these families and the impact they have on my life and how I live my life is far beyond words. It’s an amazing experience, and I feel so fortunate that the families trust me, because these babies are so fragile. I made a promise before Tripp died that I would definitely not stop what I’m doing, so it’s really launched me into a position where I can advocate. I will continue to do the photography because I love to do that for families You get pictures that you wouldn’t get otherwise – but I know that I can do more.
Next week, Christie shares the inspiration behind her I Refuse campaign and about other fundraising efforts in which she has been actively participating.