There aren’t many of us who can truly, hand on heart, say that they’ve had a calling in life. Even fewer who are brave enough admit it if they do. Life tends to be something we all seem to want to get out of the way, get through, get done. But life like that has no real meaning. Life like that is frustrating. Life like that is not lived with intent or passion. And if there is one man who has intent and passion by the bucket load, it’s John Bentley.
You can’t ignore this man when he’s in the room. Larger than life, you might say. Loud. Forthright. All of those things are true, but he will look you in the eye and tell you that he’s had a calling, and not only that, but he’s acting on it. With intent. And passion. Heaps and heaps of passion.
It seeps through every photograph that he takes. Every time he puts his eye to the viewfinder and turns his subject into something else. What he sees and what we see isn’t always the same thing at all. He takes the ordinary and makes it beautiful.
Project 22 was born because John had a ‘calling’. He wanted to do some good in this world, and he wanted to use his passion and skills to do it. Over the last few months he has been taking photographs of ordinary (and extraordinary) faces for an exhibition due to open next month. His aim was originally to photograph 2222 faces by the 22nd June, with proceeds from any prints purchased to go to Lagan’s Foundation.
The foundation are a “unique charity that provides support and respite care to babies and children under 5 who have complex heart conditions and feeding issues.” Close to John’s heart after he suffered a heart attack himself.
Charlotte at Lagan’s Foundation told me, “With the advances in medicine we are able to save more babies born with life altering heart conditions but at the moment there is not the infrastructure and support service out in the community to help Mums and Dads cope with life at home with a very poorly child. This is where we help by providing a special trained and fully checked Home Support Worker who goes into the home for at least 2 hours a week every week to help support and care for the sick child, giving mum, dad and any other family members time to rest, get on with other jobs, catch up on much needed sleep and support.”
Now let’s talk about having a calling. As a parent, seeing your child poorly is one of the worst experiences in your world. Feeling helpless, scared and exhausted. Wanting nothing more than to take the pain away. Waiting for the illness to pass and the bubbly life inside your child to return with smiles, laughter and glee. But what about babies and children who are so seriously ill that this is your life? There are no alternatives waiting for you once your child recovers. There are no breaks in the exhaustion and the pain, the fear and the helplessness. This. This is why Lagan’s Foundation is so amazing, and why they need our help.
Why Project 22 exists.
It’s not about the people who sit or stand or jump or grimace in front of the camera. It’s not about the stories they tell, the expressions we see in their eyes. It’s not about how they feel about their photos, how they interact in the 1,000+ Facebook group. It’s not about John, even. It’s about making a difference. It’s about doing something. It’s about standing up and telling people you want to help, and then helping.
But for a while, if you get to stand in front of John’s camera, he will make it feel about you. I know, I’ve done it. We all have a different story. We all have different reasons for wanting to take part. We all have that little something inside that makes us want to help too. After my shoot, I wrote:
“Long story short, I agreed to sit for a photo. Over the years, and especially since having four children (and literally being either pregnant or breastfeeding for five years solid) my self confidence has plummeted. Since Luka’s birth there has been a cycle of self blame, self hatred and guilt. And in the last few months my PTSD diagnosis has practically tipped my world on it’s side… although it is starting to settle.
Safe to say that having my photo taken was a real challenge for me. But I wanted to be in the picture. Knowing that I have NO photos of me and my four babies straight after birth spurred me on. Knowing that I refused to have a photo with Elsie because I felt so guilty, so poorly and so afraid spurred me on. Knowing that I didn’t even want to bring my son home from the hospital spurred me on.
The project is NOT about me, but for 15 minutes it felt like it was. And I wanted to be in a photo that my children could look back on and know that I was there. I wasn’t able to hide. My face was going to be scrutinised and examined and I had to agree that I was ok with this.
I’m not brave enough- yet- to show you the portrait of me. But I will show you this one. Elsie and I. I love it. And I love that it made me smile. It made me happy. It made it that little bit easier to look in the mirror and not hate what was reflected back at me.”
I am just one tiny part of Project 22. But imagine that we all might have a similar story to tell? And imagine how one man manages to capture that story in just one flash. Then imagine how that man takes that story, shows it to the world and in return the world opens up their arms, even if just for a moment.
Project 22 still needs more faces. Lagan’s Foundation still needs more donations. The world still needs people with passion, intent and fire. What are we doing if we’re not prepared to protect each other, to keep each other safe? What are we doing if we’re not helping each other? What are we doing if we cannot see that one man’s calling might well be our calling too? Our chance to do something.
Get in touch with John to find out more. Make a donation to Lagan’s Foundation. Get your face in front of the camera and take a small piece of a huge project home with you. Pick a date, stick to the date and ignite that passionate intent in your life.