In a world where photographic images are so often ‘photoshopped’ and edited beyond recognition, photographer River Bennett, is highly sought after for her beautifully realistic photos. Scroll through her work and you are suddenly swept up in the adventure of hiking through dusty villages in far off countries, smiling faces of cheeky children, dreamy weddings, celebrity portraits, and the deeply emotive images of a new born baby’s first cry. In fact, the birth photography company, ‘The First Hello Project,’ River co-founded with friend Bel Pangburn, has captured international attention from the likes of New York’s Huffington Post, and media throughout the U.K and Australia. No small feat when you learn she was only handed a camera a few years ago after a friend (Australian landscape photographer, Tony Irving), saw images River was posting on Instagram and was so impressed he encouraged her to step out a little further. “He saw ‘something’ in the iPhone photos I was posting and gave me a camera,” River says. “I had to Google how to turn it on!”
I caught up with River on the eve of her captivating photographic exhibition, ‘We All Stare at the Same Moon.’
Growing up, I loved the theatre and wanted to be an actress, I loved being on stage and making people feel something. I grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, dabbled in fashion design, and then I became a mum to three boys: Zion, Rome and Knox. I was a stay-at-home mum; my husband Joel was working three jobs. Tony gave me a camera and it changed everything. I didn’t even know how to use a camera – I YouTubed everything and would photograph the boys at home. The camera is how I started to see beauty in the every day. In a world of nappies, sleepless nights, laundry, and toddlers fighting over toys… I saw the world differently through this camera. And then people started asking me to take photos of their family.
After being involved in our local youth group for seventeen years, I knew about leadership and community. I’d learned how to do that from within church and wanted to translate that to outside these four walls. In photography, you work in a lot of different spaces, and about four years ago I started TheWolfpackMrs: the website where I get to interview people and encourage others in their creative process and also to invest time and creative opportunity in their children. And then Bel and I started The First Hello Project birth photography. From both TheWolfpackMrs and The First Hello Project businesses we give to Love Mercy. How do I explain Love Mercy? They empower communities in northern Uganda to overcome poverty after decades of civil war there. Through Love Mercy’s ‘Cents For Seeds’ micro loans, a woman can get a business loan, sow the seeds, grow the crops – and whole communities are changing out of that. The soil is so fertile in Uganda. The women reinvest their earnings into food, education, and health care and then they give back their loan of seeds at the end of their first harvest so it can be passed on to another woman. Within twelve months those seeds will have enabled a woman to release her family from poverty. I was there recently and a lady I met from last time was saying, “Come and see my shop.” Another lady wanted me to see her house – she is building a brick home and sending her nephew to law school. These are mother’s who have been through horrific things like having their children machete’d in front of them. There are 10,000 in the programme now and the goal is 20,000 by the year 2020. The First Hello Project also gives to the maternity ward in the Love Mercy hospital opening in November this year. The current maternity hospital is so far away that women are giving birth on the side of the road and many babies are dying due to lack of medical attention . Love Mercy is all about employing the locals – the Ugandans. Check out their website.
When I got the revelation that God wants to use me – I always knew he could use other people – but, wow, he has deposited special skill sets in me because he actually wants to use me, it became all about getting rid of every other thought. I’ve got things to do, let’s get busy here. I remember years ago Bobbie Houston saying, “I don’t believe you should juggle things, because something will fall and break. It’s not about juggling it’s about balance. If your marriage isn’t right – something’s out of balance. There’s always something that needs more time than something else.”
I find creativity is an every day discipline. I stretch it and use it like a muscle. I’m always looking and always interested. Everyone wants to copy the trend, but the trend is over before it starts. If you want to get the creativity flowing, be interested. It’s in watching the nature documentary, and listening to the old lady sitting next to you – the ‘God drops’ are around you all the time. For me, it’s all about being in tune with the Holy Spirit and aligned with the Word. You’re going to miss the shot if you’re not in tune. Sometimes I’ll be on a shoot and I’ll feel like the Holy Spirit says, “Come over here.” And I do…and that’s the shot! I’ve got X amount of days on the planet, let’s do something with this. All He’s requiring is my willingness. He has a bigger agenda than a trend.”
“ IF YOU WANT TO BE INTERESTING, BE INTERESTED.” – River Bennett