Several months back, my friend Hannah asked if we would photograph her family portraits. I was thrilled to accept the invitation, as I had been praying for her baby, Samuel Hilmar von Campe. While in the womb, Samuel developed a rare condition in which some vital organs, including his heart, developed outside of his body.
Doctors told Hannah he would only live a few hours after delivery. Her faith remained unshakable. She was determined to see her baby live and thrive. After months of endless prayers, tough medical decisions, and surgeries, Samuel did indeed live, and is, in fact, thriving. He remained in the hospital nearly a year. To celebrate his homecoming, Hannah set up our photo shoot, which would also include her husband Stefan, and his parents, Hilmar and Dina von Campe.
On Hannah’s picture day, Paul and I were pretty exhausted, as we just returned from photographing a destination wedding. As we drove to the photo shoot location in Norfolk, Va., we lamented scheduling with Hannah so soon after such a big project. But, Stefan’s parents were expected to travel to Georgia the following day, and we didn’t want to miss the chance to create great pictures for this family.
We were quickly energized once we arrived and met Hilmar and Dina. In particular, Hilmar instantly captured our imagination. As we learned, he was a renowned author, speaker, and founder of the Institute for Truth and Freedom — a pro-democracy non-profit organization dedicated to education and advocacy.
His biography is nothing short of fascinating: “Hilmar von Campe was listed in the 1992 “International Who’s Who of Intellectuals.” He is the author of four books, and WW2 veteran in the German Army as well as a former prisoner of war in Yugoslavia who staged a daring escape in 1945, crossing seven borders to freedom.”
“He lived through the years of Nazi power and brain-washing in Germany as a child and then as a soldier. After the war, he learned about the Holocaust and the Nazi atrocities and had to come to grips with the reasons how something like that could happen. He also had to deal with his own moral responsibility for them.”
“The destruction of Germany, the loss of his father in a Soviet concentration camp and of his elder brother who fell in Russia, and the expulsion from their home in Eastern Europe, had a profound impact on his life.” (http://www.voncampe.com/)
As Paul and I got to know Hilmar, it was his kindness, humility, warmth, and passion for freedom that was most evident. If not for the constraints of time, I would have loved to retire our cameras, sit at his feet, and listen to his life’s stories.
As it was, we had a job to do, and so we proceeded with our picture taking. Among other photos, we staged the family laying their hands on Samuel in prayer; three generations of von Campe men; and captured candids of the family enjoying the springtime sun.
We concluded our photo shoot feeling grateful for the opportunity and glad we pushed through our post-travel fatigue to make it happen.
Within about a week of taking these portraits, we received notice that Hilmar had a stroke, despite his otherwise good health. Within a few days of being hospitalized, he passed away. After absorbing the news, Paul and I realized the rare opportunity we had to meet Mr. von Campe and to take what were likely the final photographs of his life.
We were able to witness a time in which Hilmar von Campe — a man whose life was wrought with hardship — shared joyfully with his family. And, those moments were all the sweeter as he held his year-old grandson, who was never expected to live beyond a week.
To view more pictures from this photo shoot, visit McLeod House Studios on Facebook.
To learn more about Hilmar von Campe and the Institute for Truth and Freedom visit www.voncampe.com.
To help support Stefan, Hannah and Samuel, visit www.gofundme.com/baby-samuel.