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One Mad Hatter’s Trip to Wonderland: Family Portraits 2016 from The King of Hearts
25 January 2016

Article by Andrew Ng

Down the rabbit hole went the equipment, both heavy and light (pun intended), carried by a meandering procession of marvelous creatures of all shapes and sorts (our volunteers, all strong in bleeding, beating hearts and bulging biceps) as the once hollow hall at Tampines Community Centre was transformed into The King of Hearts’ Portrait Wonderland!

On Saturday, 16th January 2016, from 9am to 5pm, deep within the Heartlands, a portal was opened by Mister Lawrence Loh, drawing upon the combined arcane energies of Nikon Singapore and Cathay Photo.

It was a fantastical gateway that transported 19 families (from HCA Hospice Care, Rare Disorders Society Singapore and Singapore Cancer Society) to his Portrait Wonderland where they experienced a full studio photo shoot; a mad tea party with a guest list of the sane (professional make-up artists, hairstylists and photographers) and those less than normal (a travelling circus of serenading students with hula hoops and balloon benders with slinky swords).

“Photography is our passion. To us, it could just be a family portrait but to these patients and their families, these photos become lasting memories, a memento which reminds them of the fun during the shoot,” says Lawrence, our King and Commander-in-Chief for the day. Grinning like the Cheshire cat, disappearing and reappearing at random all over Portrait Wonderland, one hears his infectiously boisterous laughter and wonders if he’s actually truly magic and everywhere all at once.

Without further ado, let this mad hatter transport you across the boundaries of space and time as we return to the scene of the crime (I’ve been told it’s criminal to have too much fun on our little island)! From the very moment the families arrive, they are greeted with welcoming smiles by our ubiquitous ushers and beckoning befrienders. After an enthusiastic round of “Hi”s and “How are you”s, they are packed off to the land of make-believe (make-up so professional you won’t believe it) where our artists enter into skirmishes with blemishes and make all the inner beauty and radiance shine through to the surface.

A quick trip past our yCG (Young Caregivers) students, 40 of them from Victoria and Tampines Junior College who were busy jumping through hoops entertaining our patients and their families with a games station involving hula hoop challenges and their unique vocal renditions of classics from the eclectic attic like “Can’t help falling in love” and “Chan Mali Chan”.

And finally, the main event! Three flavours of striking backdrops to choose from as we come to the star attraction of the “We are Family” Portrait Day 2016 – the studio photo shoot itself! Families primp, pose and position themselves, giggling and chuckling as our photographers capture fleeting moments of pure happiness and unbridled joy. And as for the unruly children (and the occasional adult) who refuse to “look this way”, we refer them to our resident balloon sculptor, maestro of inflated animals, flowers and weapons of mass laughter. His brightly coloured creations never fail to draw the attention of roaming eyes and the looks of wonder and excitement his balloon art elicits are the best expressions to wear to a photo shoot.

After one final “skirmish with blemish” (everyone smile and say “post-processing!”) on the computer screen, our dedicated volunteers (more than 40 serving the beneficiaries as make-up artists, road marshals, logistic helpers and befrienders) print and frame the best photograph, saving all the images in a complimentary thumb drive and delivering the goodies bag straight into the hands of the eagerly waiting patients.

“My family and I really enjoyed this event! It’s very good and the photos look great!” gushes Chang Chew Yuan, a participant with three children, one of whom has a rare disease. “Through their work, they have given us our one and only proper portrait we have as a family in our daughter’s life. Their gift to my wife and I is priceless,” says Kelvin, father of Kaelyn who was a patient of Star PALS, a service under HCA Hospice Care.

To Lawrence and his team from Portrait from The Heart (a community project spinoff from Lawrence Photography), the smiles on the faces of the patients and their families are the only payments necessary for the time, effort and other resources they have selflessly contributed to this event.

“These are memories forever kept and etched in their minds. This is something money can never buy.” Borrowing the words of King Lawrence himself, this trip to Portrait Wonderland is indeed an indelible memory that will be forever etched in the minds and hearts of volunteers, patients and families alike. Long live Wonderland!

We thank all who have contributed and played an important role in the event. You may visit https://www.hca.org.sg/hospice/volunteers/donation to find out how you can support and play a part in the lives of our beneficiaries!