Sharing Ripples of hope, inspiration, and encouragement.

Karen Alsop and The Heart Project

January 17, 2023 Matt Meiers Episode 4
Sharing Ripples of hope, inspiration, and encouragement.
Karen Alsop and The Heart Project
Show Notes Transcript

 Where to find Karen

www.theheartproject.com.au

 

www.storyart.com



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Matt:

Every child has a different kind of flower that altogether make this world a beautiful garden. Karen Allsop is a highly acclaimed photographer, an artist with over 20 years of experience in both photography and graphic design. She is known for her ability to blend these two mediums, to create breathtaking artwork that transport the viewer to another world. In January, 2016, Karen founded the heart project, which allows her to use compositing skills to give children with severe disabilities, the wings to fly. The heart project is bringing hope worldwide to children and families through the power of photography. Hi Karen. Thanks for joining me today. I appreciate you taking time and we rearranged our schedule a little bit because you are from where.

Karen:

Uh, Melbourne, Australia, and yes, it's 9:00 AM here today. So on a Friday. I said thank you so much for rearranging that schedule and letting me have a couple of coffees before we get started.

Matt:

Uh, absolutely. I've had more than a couple. It's 5:00 PM on a Thursday, so I'm kind of time traveling, so that's exciting. So we're here to talk with you about sharing ripples, which is making, impact with the community and doing good things. Please tell me about the Heart Project and what made you start the Heart Project.

Karen:

Okay. So yeah, the HAR Project is really a group of volunteers that work together as photographers and and Photoshop artists to make a difference in. Particularly children's lives and families that are going through big challenges, big health challenges. And the reason that we started, that was around seven years ago, I was creating Photoshop artworks. I had won some awards and I had some people following me and I had a, a mom reach out to me and she explained to me that her daughter, ta. Was five years old and she can't walk. She can't speak. She can't hold herself up. Her mom, Jackie asked if I could create an image that would free her from all of these limitations, and that was really the start of the heart project. So I created that artwork with Talia flying with the butterflies and with her dog looking up at her, and she's free from that wheelchair. Big joyous smile on her face, and that was, uh, an incredible opportunity for me to use my. To make a difference in someone's life. So that's really what started it. And from there there's been many, many projects, that we've undertaken. I'm sure we'll chat about some of those today. So that's how it all began.

Matt:

So did you realize when you started this, and this is not a so many Angels podcast, but I'm not gonna run away from the fact that that's what I do, something similar, to what you do, but did you realize when you started this, I'm guessing you feel this way, that this was for you as well and for the parents as well?

Karen:

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. for me, it is so important to be doing something that is giving to other people. You know, I could be creating, I, I have an amazing job, you know, be being able to create artwork on a daily basis and be. Completely creative, but that will be quite hollow without being able to give that to someone else. So these projects, uh, are really the most important thing that I could be doing. Yeah.

Matt:

It, it really is amazing. And, and just watching some of the videos that you post and, and all the people that I know you have involved behind the scenes, how do you stay organized? Because I'm looking for personal tips on this, on how you stay organized because sometimes it can get a little overwhelming leading up to a larger event. sometimes it's like a lot of hurry up and wait, and then everything at once. And then so how do you stay organized with things?

Karen:

Yeah, yeah. I've, I've got a few independent things that I do. You know, I've got my Google calendar, I've got, everything on my phone and all of my devices and, I use Google a lot, so I use spreadsheets and interactive things that other people can access. But one of the big things I've learned is I need help. You know, when, when we started Christmas Wish in particular, I did that first year. Everything. I had a group of a team with me, helping on the day, but I did all of the backgrounds, I did all of the editing, I did all of the work and, you know, my friends that were there said, you're gonna need to get help. And now we've got hundreds of people that are part of it. And. one of the key persons that is part of this, her name's Charm Hura, I never say her last name right. But Hurai, I think I got that right. She's in New Zealand and every year she heads up the, the backend, the admin, the, the working with the editors. And that frees me up to be able to be on the ground with the teams. And, yeah, I couldn't do that with, without these people that are alongside

Matt:

Yeah, charm. Charm is amazing. I've seen a little bit of what she does. And, uh, how long does it take from the photo session to the delivery of the printed image and what, what are you giving as the final product?

Karen:

Yeah. Well, with, Christmas Wish, that's a really tight timeframe. So we have teams going into the hospitals that take the photos of children with Santa and. These are then delivered immediately to the teams that are editing it. So they go online, they get sorted, and then the editors start working on them. There's a really fine tuned process behind it cuz we've gotta get through about 150 to 200 photos within the space of around two to three weeks. So those edits are happening. 24 7 with people all around the world working on them. Once they're finished, we then need to get them out to the families. We also need to share them with the world and, um, share that, that joyous, story with the world. And we also need to get them printed. So we have,, people that help with that. We have companies, photo King and profile products this year that printed them and delivered them to all of the families as well. Sometimes they might turn up after Christmas though. It just depends on Australia Post, but we do our best.

Matt:

Yeah. We, we aim for, we tell people within 30 days, we try to get it done within 10 to 14, but sometimes it just, especially on the larger events, we don't do anything the scale you'd do yet Any particular children or families or just interactions or experiences. Are there a few that stand out in your memory that you just, you just always go back to? every kid we photograph, it's very special to us, but there's some interactions where it just hits you a little more for, for whatever reason.

Karen:

Yeah, I mean there's, there's definitely quite a few of those. Uh, there's so many stories I could tell I'd probably be here forever, but one of them that really hit me probably the hardest, uh, is I, I had a email from someone that was asking me if I could create a, an image of her son with, all dressed as superheroes. So, She said, can you do it? he loves all the different superheroes, and can you create something from the photos that I have now? generally, I wouldn't do that. I would normally take the photos, but there was something about this email and it didn't have the context. I, um, I wrote back to her and I, and I soon found out that her son had died in the Barcelona terror attacks, and she'd been holding his hand, the, the, you know, the, the band ripped through and taken him from her. And like that, that just hit me so hard. And so I had to do something to, to bring. Sense of healing and joy to, to John. So I, um, I actually ended up going up there and visiting her. We, we got all the photos. I created this piece from all of the photos that she'd taken on her phone to make him an amazing superhero, like a superhero poster and Yeah. And then took that up to her and, and we were able to gift it to her and that. That hit hard because I've got kids. Obviously that makes a, a big difference. My kids are healthy, my kids are well, I'm so thankful and grateful, but just in that moment, you know, just to, to have that child ripped away from her was just, yeah. So hard. So, yeah, that, that, that was a tough one. But there's other, there's others that I, I guess there's, there's the ones. We help and we create images for and them, and then they pass away. And that's really, really challenging and hard. But we know that those images are so important. There's others that we're still in contact with and we've, we've struck up such strong friendships, uh, and, and we keep working through their journey, you know, their challenging journey, that, but we are there as a friend as well.

Matt:

Yeah, it's amazing because I, I never actually had kids, but I, so I, and I did not photograph kids before this, so I started a charity where I photographed kids, which might not make sense to some people, but I feel like. God kind of said to me, you know, you never had kids, but I'm gonna give you more kids than you know what to do with. And in the back of my mind I'm thinking, wait, I don't have to change a diaper and I don't have to pay for college. I said, yes, sign me up. I'll do that in a in a second. But yeah, the ones, um, when you lose a child that you photographed, it is, it is difficult and part of me. Sometimes I think, wow, can I keep doing this? But at that same time, I think this is why I have to keep doing this because we know what the power of photography is. And if you're listening what is one of the first things you do when you lose somebody? You go through pictures and you're not usually going through your phone. You're going through printed pictures. That's what we, we try to do is, with so many angels, we want these kids to put these on their wall in their bedroom. So it's the last thing they see before they go to sleep, and the first thing they see when they wake up and they can actually inspire themselves. And that's the amazing part. And then if something does happen and we do lose the child, then the parents have this great experience, this memory of them. That just it, you cannot put a price on it. The first kid we'd lost Andrew, I heard from his, uh, cousin a couple weeks later, and she told me that they had the canvas print out at his funeral and. That never occurred to me and I started crying because it's like, wow, the impact that we made and the fact that, you know, they could see him as Iron Man. You know, his, his nickname was I Iron Andrew. So it just, that is like, how can I not do this anymore? Now you use live characters in yours? Sometimes like a, I'm not sure if he's called Santa Claus in, in Australia, but, uh, Santa Claus or, or you use characters with your photos. How's that? How's that work?

Karen:

yeah. Well, Santa in particular, and, you know, he, he, so Santa Claus? Yes. Uh, he's been working with us. The real Santa Claus has been working with us since we started. He volunteered the first year and has been with us ever since. And we, we do try and fly around to as many places as possible because he is one of those people that just knows what to. To the child. He, he connects with each and every child. He really understands them and, you know, the loud ones, the quiet ones, and he makes a difference in their life as well. So for, I, I truly believe that his gifting, that why he was put on this earth was, was to be sad to Claus. And, um, and that's what, what he feels as well, he's really, um, just it. Everything to him. And, that's important to us it's not just about the photography. The photography's such an important part, but it is about that experience as well. and the stories that they can tell and the memories that they have. you know, one other, one of the family that we helped, Callum, he, I heard from someone that he didn't have long to live and, and they wanted us to create something. And similar to what you do with so many angels with, a picture of him as a superheroes, Batman, and the thing that we did for him as well as we filmed. So behind the scenes, uh, a lot of the time we create a video that tells the story of what's been done. He shared, Callum shared, uh, about why he was a superhero, why he, what, what it meant for him to, to be a superhero, and his voice is, Hard as it is to hear his voice just shares that strength behind who he was. And that was actually played at his funeral. So we went to his funeral and that was played and, you know, some of the footage and the photos were shared. And, and you know, and to this day, um, we are still friends with this family and, and these memories are, as you said, so important. The pictures important, but those memories are important too.

Matt:

Very much so. And then there's, uh, like you said before, you get to watch, you become friends with some of these families and you get to watch them grow up. We photographed,, This little boy, he was less than one years old when we photographed a maverick and he was dressed as a pilot. He couldn't even sit up because he wasn't old enough to sit up. So we, she was the last session of the day. So we wrapped mom in green screen fabric and she held him up. So that was, that was kind of a fun one, but now I don't know if he's just started kindergarten, but he's, he's like four or five now, and it's like he's, he's a totally different person than when we photographed him. And it's just amazing to watch these kids grow up and, and you share, you know, I had no idea what these families go through all the time. You know, what they're, what their normal, normal is like, and that's what we kind of try to do is try to give them a regular. you know, even if it's just for five or 10 minutes during the photo session. I want to give these families so much more, but you know, part of the reason I wanted to have you on is to share, I know with me it gets addicting and when I have other people volunteer with me, you know, halfway through, The events or the photo sessions, they're like, when are you doing this again? Because this feels amazing to just do something for somebody that, that I don't want anything in return. You know, you don't need anything in return, and they couldn't, they couldn't pay you enough to do. What, what we're doing for them. And it just, it just gets so addicting so fast that it's, you know, I want others to get that feeling as well and just try to, you know, whether it's taking a shopping cart back for somebody at the store or holding a door open, just something simple that somebody else might. Pay something forward like that. So switching, switching out of that a little bit, tell us about any hobbies that you have that are not photo, if there are any that are not photography related or editing related.

Karen:

Okay. I think most of them are connected to that and somewhat. I used to be a musician. I'm kind of not, not really, um, playing anything anymore. Um, I look, I love camping. I love camping with my family. I don't think they love it as much as I do, but you know, I've got a little pod that we, uh, drag with our little mini countrymen, put the bikes on the top and off we go and camp with friends. I love that. so one of the things that I'm really delving into now is augmented reality and making my art augmented, making it come out in 3D and taking photos and making them, yeah, it's, it's, that's, that's kind of my thing at the moment, which I'm really enjoying. It's like that next level of, of what can I do?

Matt:

Were there any reactions with any of the families that changed your behavior in any way? Was there just something that happened that it clicked something inside you that made you approach things differently or approach people differently?

Karen:

I think it's all of, all of the different families that I've met. Um, you know, as, as I said before, my kids are healthy. They haven't had these struggles that many of these families have, and every single connection with families just makes you realize more and more, how hard it is for them and, and what they're going through on a daily basis. The, the little girl Talia that I mentioned, as our first one, she is now about, 11, I think. And, um, she, yeah, I just saw her at Christmas. Wish her mom runs the Adelaide Christmas wish, you know, through those challenges, through having Talia as dependent on her 24 7, with a feeding tube and, and everything else she's there. Heading up a team and making it happen. And so, yeah, I just appreciate it. It makes you appreciate your own life, but it also makes you understand, what everyone goes through and it's, it's makes you wanna do it even more. So.

Matt:

exactly. So if you could re be remembered for one thing, what would it be?

Karen:

Oh, big question Matt

Matt:

Thank you.

Karen:

big question. Um,

Matt:

Just one.

Karen:

I, I, I think it, it's not about me being re remembered for one thing, but that I, I hope that my, what I've done and what I've shared has helped to change someone else's way of life. So mainly, you know, I think about that as. Influencing other photographers and other artists to make a difference. You know, if what I'm sharing can in turn give them that ability and that, boost to make a difference in whatever it is that they do, then that, that's the biggest thing for me, I think.

Matt:

exactly why I've started this podcast because I want your story to be told the people. Never heard about you, especially in the US that need to hear about the amazing things that you guys do. I want to give and give and give and give, and at the same time, I just wanna share the stories that other people have because I've. Through the past, uh, five years of doing so many angels, I've met so many amazing people and I remember meeting you at PhotoPlus in New York and I was like, I don't even know if I knew you're gonna be there. I was like, wait, I know you from your videos. So, uh, since this morning there, let's do this question. Do you have a morning routine? And if so, what does it look like Besides drinking mug loads of mug, loads of coffee.

Karen:

The coffee is probably a big thing. I, I probably should cut down. I have a, a coffee machine that does all the beans and everything, and, uh, apart from that, yeah, I, morning's important, you know, um, praying, waking up, facing the day. Establishing what am I doing today? You know, I've got family, as I said, I've got kids. Um, so when they're at school. So let's talk routine when they're at school, cuz it routine's completely out the window in holidays. Um, yeah, my, my husband brings me more coffee and in the morning. He's wonderful. He takes them to school because he is, uh, he works there, so that's fantastic. And then, you know, yeah, yeah. Very, very helpful. And, and then I, you know, I. Wanna start the day in my studio by figuring out, okay, let's get through all the, all the emails and the, all the admin stuff, and then let's get into the creative stuff. What am I creating today? What am I, gonna make? And, and what am I gonna do that's different? And marketing for me too is a big thing. I love coming up with new ideas and new ways of getting my work out there. And, um, just pushing, pushing. Boundaries of, of what I've done before. So yeah, it's um, it's always exciting.

Matt:

So if you had to eat one meal, one meal only for the rest of your life, what would it be? It could be, uh, breakfast, lunch, or dinner or a snack. But if you had to be restricted to one type of food the rest of your life, what would it be?

Karen:

I hate eating the same thing. all the time so that, I don't even know how I can answer that question. Look, I'd say curry, but every time I go out, I will eat the most different thing on the menu. Um, so so I don't, I, I find it very hard to eat one thing forever.

Matt:

So have there been any, uh, let's take the photography industry. Are there any people that have influenced you, uh, in business, in your style and your, in what you do in any way?

Karen:

Oh, there's many. Yeah, I there. There. There's so many key moments, I think as I've been developing this. You know, we, I, I was a wedding and portrait photographer for many years, so I wasn't doing Photoshop art. And it was because I had kids, that we were finding that we couldn't shoot the weddings anymore. It was really hard with them little, so that's when I started looking at different types of photography. I think early on, one of the. People that influenced my work was Adrian Sommeling and the work that he was doing back then. Um, and then there's, there's people now that I'm just completely in awe of and always inspired, and people like Ben Shirk who just, he, he helps with, uh, the Christmas wish every year and always just pulls out something brilliant. But yeah, there's, there's so many. People. Um, one of the people I do wanna mention though, too is, um, my friend Robin Campbell, who, um, I've known through the Australian Institute of Professional Photography, which is no longer, that finished up, uh, a couple of years ago, unfortunately after 75 years. But Robin. Is someone that is very, very driven, much like myself. And, um, I think yeah, as having someone alongside you that can push you and can ask those tough questions and that can really challenge you every day,, is something huge. And we run the Australian Photographic Prize together, which is something that we, started last year, massive undertaking, but I don't think I could do it with anyone.

Matt:

Yeah. I tell people I'm the least busy right now than I'll be for the rest of my life because I just see things getting busier and busier. Two of our people to edit for. Else. They also photograph for us to Mickey and Josh and I was totalling up the number of edits that each of them had done, and at one point they were tied at 31 to 31. So I want to get that competition going between them, like I want them to do more and you know, it. I want them to see what the other editors are doing and want to do something better. If you could go back and talk to your 18 year old self and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Karen:

I think I would just say to myself, keep following your passions. and, and that's what I've done. So I actually don't really have any regrets at all in the directions that I've taken. Um, very thankfully. I, yeah, I've done portraits and weddings and, and all of those things, and I would put myself right into them as I did them. Um, but then finding new, new directions, finding new passions. It, it's really important to be open to, you know, where God's taking you. What, what, what is, what is next, you know, on this journey in not to get stuck, um, but to just.

Matt:

Do you ever feel like you're kind of along for the ride and just holding on for dear life? Sometimes and it's like, I, I trust where I'm going, but um, yeah, I would like to know where I'm gonna be next month, but this is kind of fun and I'm just enjoying the process of everything.

Karen:

Yeah. Sometimes that rides like a rollercoaster. Sometimes it's just like, it's, it's, um, just going a hundred miles per hour and, you know, you ha you're just holding on for dear life. But yes, Yep.

Matt:

Yep. Yep. So is there a question that you wished I would've asked you, and if so, what's that question and how would you have answered it?

Karen:

Um, I think, yeah, I, I think we touched on it a little bit, but, um, we, you talked about wanting to influence other people and, and help them to find a way to make a difference and to encourage them. And that's something that's big for me. Um, one of the things that I struggle with is, Being able to provide that, um, place for people to, to do something to help. So I'll, I'll explain that a little bit more With Christmas Wish, we have so many people wanting to be part of it and but to ensure that we don't. Um, as you said, you know, the quality stays and, and we're able to manage it. We have to just step by step, grow it and make sure that we've got the people that can manage it. Um, and I, I wish that we could just go, yeah, everyone get on board, let's do it. But it, it's actually just not possible. So I, I do hope that, you know, even if those people that say, I really wanna be part of it, how can I be part of it? even if they can't be part of it right now, that they can then go back into their world and go, okay, well what can I do here in my world, in my space, in my sphere of influence? What can I do that can really make a difference in someone's world? Cause I think that's, that's the most important thing.

Matt:

Agreed. When people say, how can I help? sometimes they say, right now you can't because we're not in a position where we can come to new cities and things like that. But I will say, you know, in the meantime, you can follow our social media. You can like, Comment and share on our things, uh, you know, I, I have still not edited a single image that we've done. I might be able to come close to some of the quality that I want, but it would take me like five days, 24 hours a day. Some of the other editors, it takes'em two and a half hours and they knock these things out, and there's a lot of times when the parents, the families, the kids would say, that's good. It's good enough, but it's not good enough for me sometimes. And it's, it's just, I want it. It doesn't have to be perfect, but I want it to be perfect. And that's part of the fun journey too, is sometimes when I get some of these images back, I will just break down and cry because I'll think of some of the parents, some of the conversations we've had, there was, uh, one girl named Bailey and she was just, she was dressed as the Incredibles person that I don't know the name of, but she was dressed as the Incredibles. Mom was just saying that, you know, she just, and Bailey was lighting up the room, her smile, her actions and, and she said, I just wish she would be introduced as Bailey. Once instead of Bailey with this medical condition or that medical condition. And it, that crushed me because it's, you know, I know that's how we work sometimes in our mind, but it just, it hurt to hear the words out loud like that when she was, when she was explaining that. So we're gonna wind up now, and please tell us where we can find you online and if you have anything coming up in the next few months or at the end of the year, maybe.

Karen:

Yeah, absolutely. So the heart project.com.au is, uh, where you can find all of the information about everything. At the top of that website is a link to our 2020 Christmas wish. So there's a whole website all about Christmas Wish, um, with a video that, uh, goes for 12 minutes. Make sure you have your tissues with any of the videos that you watch, cuz Yeah, they, they do. Um, Yeah, the tears do come. But, this year we really wanna expand Christmas wish. We really wanna, get into more places. We've got team leaders that have been, rising up and been trained. So that is one thing. Yes, we can't go everywhere. we can't be everywhere, but we do want to grow it. So, sign up, put your name down on the contact form and um, and we'll let people know what's happening where.

Matt:

Karen, thank you so much for spending your morning with us and my evening with us. I appreciate your time and I appreciate everything you do and we will be in touch. Thank you.

Karen:

Thank you. Thanks so much,

Matt:

If you're hearing this message, you've made it to the end of the episode. And for that, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope you enjoyed this episode. And if you did. Please leave a review on apple podcasts and Spotify. I'm hoping to learn from each episode and I'm striving to do better and bring more positivity to the world with everything I do. Any the links mentioned in this episode will be listed in the show notes. Please join the sharing ripples Facebook group and join in the discussion. Also feel free to let me know of any guests you'd like to recommend for future episodes. The show notes will also be posted there. See you next time.