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My Hardest Assignment, Capturing a Newborn’s Final Hours



There’s nothing as hard in photography as the thing I’m writing about today. I even don’t really know where to start. I’m just going to describe what happened.

On the 25th of May, 2016 I received a message on my phone stating that a newborn, no older than three weeks, was going to die in the next few days. The parents wanted to have a few picture of their little wonder before destiny would eventually rip their world apart.

I have never done something like this before, and as I was walking to the hospital entrance I felt growing anxiety in the face of what I was about to do.

How should I behave? How do I talk to the parents, knowing they are going through hell right now? If there’s an answer to that question, I don’t know what it is… maybe there just isn’t one.

When I walked in, I met a young, friendly, and incredibly strong couple. From the look in their eyes you could tell they had been there for hours, sitting at the cradle and preparing for the most painful farewell one could possibly imagine.

And there was little Maria.

Connected to all those hoses, fighting for her short life. Everyone knows that this is pointless, that she never gets a chance in life, and everything that remains are two grieving parents who will never forget her. Now matter what life has got for them.

Setting the aperture, setting exposure, setting ISO, focus, and release. If I had had to think about it, if everything I wasn’t simply reflexes and “internal” check lists, I wouldn’t have been able to take a single shot.

I was working like a machine, it was like being outside myself, watching the process from afar.

When it was time to leave, I walked down the hallway with a giant lump in my throat. With every step I took, my desire to get some distance from what just happened grew and grew, just like the certainty that I wasn’t in for something like distance at all. The 20ft to the exit where stretching 10-fold.

I hope my pictures help… so the parents find a way to carry on with their lives and don’t lose heart. It’s the only way I could help.

Someone recently asked me why I do “stuff like that.” Here’s your answer: I want to capture a moment, that never comes back.

That’s how easy even the hardest things can be. It doesn’t matter what life’s got in store for me. In just a matter of minutes, that little girl taught me more about life than the last three decades did. I won’t forget her. My little hero from Building 26.

About the author: Joachim Lehmann is a Cologne, Germany-based photographer. To see more of his work, visit his website or follow him on 500px and Instagram. This post was also published here.