TAMPA — Photographer Yamaly Esposito leafs through the glossies in her portfolio and picks out a photo of the Cancel family. The parents and their five adopted children pose in a park, wearing matching white shirts and jeans, looking happy.
"They were so sweet. The kids were awesome,'' Esposito says.
In another portrait, an older couple stands behind a smiling great-grandson, with Tampa Bay as a backdrop. The boy, 4 or 5, looks a lot like the man in the picture. The child had lived with them all his life, having been removed from his mother, a drug abuser.
Esposito, 35, a Tampa portrait and wedding photographer, makes portraits of newly adoptive families for free. The pictures mark a celebratory end to the adoption process and are a service offered by the L. David Shear Children's Law Center. That arm of the nonprofit Bay Area Legal Services works to place foster children — most of them victims of abuse or neglect — with caring families.
Esposito took over as volunteer photographer from a friend who no longer had the time. The mother of two young children remembers the joy everyone felt when a friend adopted a girl from China. "I was like part of their family, so I saw the whole process and lived the whole process,'' Esposito says.
She gets a glimmer of those feelings with each family she photographs.
"I feel happy for the kids, because I know they're with good families,'' she says. "I see the love they have for these children.''
The Children's Law Center asks the families for permission to post the pictures to promote adoption, and Esposito asks to be able to display them in her portfolio. But no matter the answer, each family wanting a portrait gets a portrait — actually a disc with 50 or more images — for free.
A number of people don't want the pictures, and in most cases Esposito doesn't know why. One woman told her bluntly she didn't want the picture because she didn't want the child to know he was adopted.
Other families are thrilled, says Debbie Buie of the law center. Families smile from a dozen portraits hanging near her desk.
"There's tears in their eyes, they're so grateful to be given the opportunity to have those pictures taken,'' she says. "The poses that they're in show a lot of love in the family.''
The law center started the service in 2006, knowing that a lot of people don't have the money for a professionally made family portrait. "They're also a new family, and we want them to have that memory,'' she says.
Melissa Cancel, mother of the five adopted children in the portrait in the park, has been sharing the memory. "I've put them up on Facebook. I've showed everybody,'' says the Lakeland woman. It's the only professional photograph taken of the family as a whole, and Cancel plans to put the framed print in the family living room beside the other shots.
She and her husband, Daniel, took in foster children with plans of eventually having children of their own. But they grew to love their charges, adopting three earlier and the youngest two recently through the Children's Law Center.
The kids cooperated beautifully in the photo shoot, Esposito recalls. "They were up for anything.'' Cancel says they're used to their mom taking a lot of pictures.
"They know the better they behave, the faster we get done and the sooner they get to do what they want to do.''
Esposito lets the families pick the setting for the photo shoot. That way they're more relaxed, and the result is more pleasing.
"I want to make sure that what they're going to see later on in the picture is something they're going to love.''
Philip Morgan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.