Photography was something that Amy Mooney had always loved, but doing it on a professional level seemed like an impossible dream. It was hard enough for the full-time mom to find time to devote to her favorite hobby.
“I liked being behind a camera,” she said. “I like capturing the moments that nobody else remembers.”
But the responsibilities of motherhood proved too demanding, and the dream was pushed to the back of her mind. That is, until her brothers wedding.
Mooney credits the occasion as being the shoot that gave her the courage to go pro. When he asked her to be their photographer, she initially refused. But after several months of pestering by her future sister-in-law, she accepted. Using a camera loaned to her by her mother, she went on to shoot her first wedding.
That was a pivotal moment for Mooney. She knew then that she could use her love of photography to provide for her family. But she was hesitant to take on the extra responsibility that would come with running her own business. She was worried it would take away from raising her kids.
“I’ve tried to hold part-time jobs a couple of times while being a mom, and it’s just not possible,” she said. “With doctors appointments and schedules, you never know when they’re going to get sick.”
Doctor’s appointments and emergencies are frequent in the Mooney household.
Jami Mooney, her son, was born 9 weeks early and with a slew of developmental issues. He was in and out of the hospital 15 times in his first year of life. When he was 15 months old he was diagnosed with periventricular leukomalacia, a disorder characterized by the death of brain tissue. Jami faced a life at risk of motor disorders, delayed mental development, coordination problems and vision and hearing impairment.
Determined not to let her son fall victim to his handicap, Amy placed him in physical, occupational and speech therapies at an early age. He was unable to walk until the age of four. The day he finally took his first steps was a celebration for Amy.
“For me, milestones were very, very important,” she said. “The very first time he walked, I had it on video. Because I wanted those moments. I never knew if they would happen one time or many times.”
Capturing those moments had always been important to her. She regularly took her older daughter, Jena, in for professionally done portraits. Doing the same thing proved much more difficult for Jami.
“When we went to have Jami’s pictures done, we couldn’t find anybody who not only had the patience, but wasn’t scared or wouldn’t tell us no,” Mooney said. “He had a walker. People were intimidated by that.”
It was a combination of that frustration and the ability to set her own schedule that made Mooney decide to give professional photography a shot. And it allowed her to find her niche.
“I decided that because for us it was so hard with special needs kids and families,” she said. “That was something I wanted to focus on.”
She offers deals for individuals with disabilities or serious medical conditions, knowing all too well how tight money can be in those circumstances. A full third of her clients have special needs. It can be challenging working with them, but for Mooney, the results speak for themselves.
She recounted the story of one family whose photos she took. The husband of one of her close friends was diagnosed with cancer. A few short months after his diagnosis, he passed away. But not before Mooney spent an afternoon in St. Augustine with the family, shooting what would be their last, and only set of portraits.
“She told me ‘These are the first, last, and only family portraits we’ll ever have, and it took him dying to get them,’” Mooney remembered.
For Mooney, helping people hold onto their memories makes all of her struggles worthwhile.