Photographer Whitney Scott helps clients after Joplin tornado: Part II

Olive L. Sullivan

Photographer Whitney Scott is excited about her photo shoot at the historic Phelps House.

“I’m especially inspired by being in a new place,” she says as she surveys the ornate library, with its wood paneling, curved windows and onyx fireplace. "We’ve never shot here before so this is a lot of fun for me. And I’m inspired by people, too.”

She’s especially inspired by the story that brings her to the Phelps House today. It’s the story of new life – the baby, Hadley Lawver – in the midst of destruction – the Joplin tornado, which destroyed the Lawvers’ home just a couple of hours after Baby Hadley came home from the hospital for the first time.

Scott meets the Lawvers at the Phelps House for the newborn photo shoot, part of a package the expectant parents had purchased. Usually the shoot would take place in the new nursery, with its handpicked accessories, but Scott says, “What do you do when the nursery is gone?”

Luckily, Judy Hill, manager of the historic Carthage mansion, agreed to let Scott hold the newborn session here at no charge. The house has a magical feel that welcomes the photographer and her slightly shell-shocked clients, drawing them into a timeless mood.

It’s a Friday evening just two weeks after little Hadley’s birth day. Lindsey Lawver carries a bag of clothes and accessories for the baby, including a net tutu and matching headband.

“Those are all we saved. We’ve had to wash everything,” the new mom says. “We had three or four people washing clothes for us.” Her husband, Jake Lawver, adds that the baby’s closet was one of the few places in the house that’s still okay.

As the couples scout the house looking for the ideal location for the first photos, Scott says she prefers to have the newborn session at the family home because it helps her get a sense of the parents’ style and taste. But the Phelps House has so many lovely settings, she’s sure the photos will be wonderful. She tells Lindsey Lawver to choose the location she likes best.

“Whatever you think,” Lindsey Lawver says. “We just brought everything.”

The first photos are taken in the morning room on a lovely antique sofa. Baby Hadley is wearing her turquoise and brown tutu, and she’s trying to take a little nap after her afternoon meal. She’s like a little rag doll as Scott pushes her arm into position, then adjusts her head. “Now if she’ll just yawn,” the photographer muses, and the baby yawns on cue.

“Oh, my goodness! You’re going to love that picture!” she exclaims.

They move upstairs to the bedrooms. Scott leads the parents into the ladies’ bedroom, done in pale blue and white. A curved wall of windows allows the afternoon sweet light to pour in like butterscotch.

“The light in this room is just stunning,” the photographer says. She groups the little family on the bed, and then moves them to an antique rocker. “I usually use the parents more as props at this point,” she says, adjusting Mom’s hair. “I think it’s so sweet to see that interaction.”

The photographer’s partner and husband, Dave Scott, shows the new father a couple of shots in the camera’s digital display. He explains that seeing a few images helps keep the parents engaged and shows them it’s worth the time and money.

The newborn session tends to take longest, Whitney Scott says, as the new mother changes a diaper on the Persian carpet on the floor of the historic bedroom, because baby has to take a break every now and then. Then the session resumes.

Now it’s Jake Lawver’s turn. Whitney Scott seats him on the delicate rocker and places his hands just so on the baby’s back and head, their faces close together. The baby snuggles in and the photographer gently pushes Hadley’s head into place, asking, “Is she always this laid back?”

In unison the parents exclaim, “No!” Dad laughs, saying he averages four hours of sleep a night.

Hadley chooses that moment to get fussy, but after another little snack, she falls asleep.

Whitney Scott places her on a mirrored dressing table and gets the final shot she wants. “It’s precious!” she exclaims.

Once the session is over, the Lawvers return to real life. Jake Lawver runs a moving company, and has been hard at work helping with the cleanup. Now the couple will focus on what to do next. Temporarily living in a friend’s house, they’ve made the decision to rebuild on the same site, but they know it will be a long time before things return to normal.

As for the photographer, she’ll continue documenting the aftermath, focusing her lens on tragic history, but at the same time, creating priceless memories for the future.

The Carthage Press