Brooklyn photographer Christian Mushenko believes that our shared humanity is what makes us strong and that understanding and showing compassion towards others is what the world needs more of. Christian and his studio manager Natasha Lorenzen started a self-assigned project to photograph The Ronald McDonald House (RMHC) charity in Randwick, Sydney.
Christian had worked with the charity for many years and wanted to do something in the vein of recognizing human connections. He started by reaching out to his friend Tracey Webster, the National Learning Program Manager, which is a division of RMHC, and Adam Blatch, the National Manager Program Support for RMHC in Australia. They loved his idea and introduced him to Jaclyn Hurst, the Community and Communications Coordinator for RMHC. They discussed his aims and were happy to bring Christian and Natasha onboard.
Christian’s goal was to highlight the special moments of connection amongst family members during their stay at the house.
The charity’s hashtag is #keepingfamiliesclose and this had a lovely resonance with the ethos of my project. By capturing moments of the family’s journey as they undergo treatments in the hospital with their children, as well as the rollercoaster ride that ensues amongst the whole family; I was able to record some intimate moments for them.
Christian was very aware not to focus on capturing images for his blog as it wasn’t really about him but rather The Ronald McDonald House. Planning for the shoot was smooth; aside from getting agreement from the charity’s management and the house manager, Christian communicated with the house to find times where there were likely to be people around.
Christian went to scout the Ronald McDonald House during morning breakfast times as well as during a few dinner hours.
Once a week a corporate team would come in and cook a dinner for the house residents and this tended to be a good time to go, as it drew a lot of the families staying at the house out for the meal. Normally they would all wander in at their own times, looking after their own meals.
The families there were going through such extraordinary journeys. They were staying at the Ronald McDonald House houses because they had to travel to the hospital for treatments for their children. These houses give them a place to stay amongst other families who understand what their journey means.
Dealing with the fact that these children are severely ill was a big challenge for Christian during the project. The kids were dealing with being away from home and the disruption to their normal life along with all that their sickness entails. Christian saw firsthand how that kind of burden extends to the separation of siblings, family members, schooling, jobs and more.
There were stories of celebration as well as stories of loss that everyone could share. Throughout, Christian stayed planted there as a service to the kids and families while staying sensitive to their situations.
Pointing a camera in someone’s face in this kind of environment pushed Christian out of his comfort zone. Talking to the families and hearing what they were going through allowed Christian to remove the barrier between the camera and subject while creating a connection between them. The shared vulnerability benefited everyone.
My favorite part of the project was talking to the people at RMHC and hearing their stories, being inspired by their spirit and humbled by what they are going through. None of us live in isolation. It doesn’t work when we try to. Our shared humanity is what makes us strong.
Christian enjoyed seeing the kids’ faces when showing them some images on the back of his camera. He continues to be inspired and humbled by the children’s spirits. Unfortunately, with Christian’s schedule, he doesn’t get back to Randwick very often since he is now based in NY. However, he aims to pick up the project locally at the Ronald McDonald Houses here in the US.
See more of Chrisitan at christianmushenko.com.