The making of Protecting Our Tomorrows: Portraits of Meningoccocal Disease
The month of April marks the time of the year when the snow begins to melts, flowers start to bloom, and smiling becomes contagious. April is also the month during which one day is dedicated to raising awareness about meningitis, which affects more than 300,000 children worldwide each year. To support the cause, famed Australian photographer Anne Geddes and Novartis—maker of the vaccine against said virus—partnered up to create Protecting Our Tomorrows, a photography project featuring children afflicted with meningococcal disease.
Geddes is known for starting the wave of cute baby pictures, with babies dressed as butterflies or nestled inside enormous lettuce leaves. A talented, creative and, most importantly, compassionate photographer, she let us go behind the scenes of her photo shoot with Matteo Perricone, a 10-month-old angel of a boy who also suffers from meningitis. Below, a look at a touching project and an inspiring encounter on all counts.
The photographer: Anne Geddes
Geddes is exactly what you would expect: charismatic, cool, and positive. We’ve only just met, but there she is, leading us straight into her universe, talking about the many inspirations behind the project: ”I’m working on a series of portraits of survivors of meningococcal disease, which consists of 15 photographs taken in Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, England and Ireland. When Novartis approached me, it was only natural for me to accept. I am an activist for children around the world and I want people to be aware that there’s a vaccine for meningitis.” At the heart of this inspiring photo album lies awareness about this cause, which calls attention to three key points: recognizing the symptoms, being attentive to your child and, lastly, asking your doctor about the vaccine. “This is a rare disease. One of the project participants told me that when he arrived at the hospital, doctors had to research his symptoms on the Internet in order to identify what he had. People have to know what meningitis is,” says Geddes. “It is a sad reality around the world, nevertheless, I did not want it to be shocking, but rather, positive. To see little girls getting dolled up like princesses and experiencing a precious moment was touching. And then, there was the young boy who got into lotus pose, with his hands together in prayer. The message of hope behind it is very strong.”
The model: Matteo Perricone
The minute he arrived at the shoot, Matteo spread a feeling of love among everyone present. His huge laugh and smiling eyes won the hearts of every single person on set. During the photo shoot, he was stunningly dressed in white while perched up on the podium. “He’s our champion, our miracle, a real little angel on a mission! His name—which means gift of God—now takes on its full meaning,” says his mother, Chantal. “Before he was diagnosed, I was only aware of the virus that affects the brain, but Matteo suffers from the form of meningitis that attacks blood cells, which is different.” The news shook the lives of this family. While his father and grandmother took care of his older sisters, Matteo’s mother stayed at his bedside at the hospital, day in and day out. Those were trying and destabilizing weeks that today, make seeing him alive and well priceless. “It’s amazing the maternal force that lies within oneself. Before we found out that our baby was sick, we were thinking of moving, we wanted to improve our quality of life. Today, none of that matters. We don’t need anything else but our healthy children by our side.” Matteo’s family agreed to take part in Geddes’ project in order to spread the message to parents to be attentive to your children, listen to yourself if you have any doubts, and to watch for early signs of the disease. “Never lose hope. We have to trust the doctors and let go even if it is unsettling. Matteo is a beautiful example that there’s hope for us all.”