The Hard Work of Making Children Smile

A collage of silly faces and smiles from Remedy Mission XIII in Najaf, Iraq.

Not surprisingly, Iraqi children seem to dislike going to the hospital as much as all the other children on this planet.

Something about needles and scalpels and face-masks brings out the sourest faces.

Even after all the anesthesia, after I’ve dished out candy and toys, and after I’ve made humiliating faces for them, smiles are often hard to come by. For some kids, the fear even gets so bad that they just cry any time they see someone in scrubs coming toward them.

But this emotional honesty is one of my favorite things about children. They are genuine, and they haven’t learned how to mask it.

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What I mean is, if they don’t feel like doing something, they just don’t do it. When I tell a child to smile for a photo, they almost always just stare back at me. “What’s there to smile about with you sticking that lens in my face?”

But we adults have (most of us) learned how to fake it. We can pull a camera-smile for any occasion, regardless of how we feel. Shooting pictures of smiling children takes a lot more work. And you’ve got to always have your finger on the shutter button, because that moment passes in a heartbeat.

Remedy Mission XIII is the fourth mission I’ve shot, and it has probably been the least-smiley mission so far. We’ve seen a lot of very sick, oxygen-deprived children who—in some cases—weren’t physically able to smile.

Thankfully, they’re waking up in the ICU and on their way toward feeling better than ever as their hearts are finally working correctly. Hopefully we’ll have more happy faces to show you soon!