“C’mon, Hiram. I’m not gonna bite.” Celebrity photographer Martin Schoeller has shot plenty of demanding stars, but he seems to have met his match in his latest subject, a 7-year-old foster child who won’t come out of his shell. Then Schoeller, whose portraits of Brad Pitt, Bill Clinton and George Clooney fetch up to $20,000, asks Hiram to name his favorite singer. “Eminem,” the boy says in a barely audible whisper. “Eminem? We’re buddies. I took his picture a little while ago,” replies Schoeller. “But you know what? You’re better looking!” Suddenly, the quiet kid comes alive: “You met Eminem!” he shouts, wide-eyed.
Minutes later, an Eminem CD plays and Schoeller’s camera pops into action. This spring, Hiram’s portrait
will join those of more than 300 other New Jersey foster children at an exhibit titled Heart Gallery of New Jersey. Many have passed through multiple homes, enduring neglect and sometimes violence. As a result, some have behavioral problems and, by reason of age alone, are difficult to place. “These are kids who, for one reason or another, face many years living in our system,” says Joe Delmar, the public affairs officer with the state’s Department of Human Services. If all goes well, adults who visit the exhibit (or view the photos online at http://www.heart gallerynj.com) will be moved to adopt.
It’s happened before. Former Newsweek photographer Najlah Feanny Hicks helped recruit 150 volunteer photographers after hearing about Heart Gallery projects in other states. In Connecticut, 19 of 40 children featured in an exhibit were adopted; in New Mexico, where the idea originated in 2001, at least 18 kids have found homes (see box page 114). “This was my chance to make a difference in the world,” says Feanny Hicks, 43, who’s married with a 3-year-old son. “A chance to truly change someone’s life.” All 328 children will also be featured in a special section of New Jersey’s largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger.
The photographers aren’t the only ones who hope something special shines through in their work. “It’s not fun going from house to house to house,” says Hiram at the end of his exciting day. “I’d like a mom and a dad and a room that’s just my own.”
THREE SISTERS FIND A NEW FAMILY
“Being adopted was like a dream,” says 11-year-old Jan-nae, who, along with her sisters Vicky, 13, and Vanessa, 8, bounced between eight different New Mexico foster homes before being adopted by Drew and Melinda Somerviile three years ago. Smitten by a photo of the girls dressed in princess costumes (below) at the first Heart Gallery exhibit in Santa Fe, the couple “made our minds up then and there,” says Drew, 51, an aerospace engineer. It took seven months to formalize an adoption, and a tad longer for the blended family—pictured at left with their parents and new sibs Allison and Melissa at the Somerville’s Edgewood, N.Mex., home—to gel. “There was a period of adjustment. All three girls tended to get into fights, and there was also a lot of lying at first,” says Drew. “But adopting older children can show you whole new facets of love and loving.” Jannae still reels at her good fortune. “This is such a big, fun family,” she says. “It’s like being in a really great movie.”
Jennifer Wulff. Steve Erwin in Camden