- Associated Press - Saturday, May 6, 2017

LEBANON, Pa. (AP) - You can’t freeze time and keep your family exactly like it is right this minute.

Unless you have a picture.

Professional photographer Scott Church of Lebanon is prepping for the trip of lifetime with his only child, a son,11, whom Church realizes is growing up way too fast and won’t want to hang with dad much longer. This dad is turning a Pennsylvania-to-California road trip into a work of art by photographing - for free - as many families as he can. He plans to make the all-encompassing diversity project a published book, where families share their story with the world.

“I want to remember this moment with him,” Church said of his son - but his memory-making trip will make memories for hundreds of others of all walks of life as they take advantage of Church’s portrait offer and get their loved ones together for their own moment frozen in time.

How exactly does one coordinate getting people you’ve never met, and who may never have heard of you, to find you along your cross country route and get their picture taken? It will be complex to coordinate, but social media, Church’s studio staff and various volunteers will make the appointments happen.

“We’ll have tent pole sites where we want to stop,” Church explained of connecting with diverse families that will anchor the book project. They are priority shoots and a way to start plotting the trip now.

“Once we know those we’ll get the word out ‘Hey, we’ll be close to you,’” Church said, and families will have the information to connect with Church and his coordinating team back home in order to be photographed.

“My hope is to run the gamut - not just diversity, but diversity in type: adopted families, blended families, whatever their story ends up being. All the different kinds of American families.”

An experience several years ago made the power of a family portrait very clear to Church. He was hosting a free portrait day for families at his studio, and before he could deliver the prints to families participating, one of the family members captured in a portrait died unexpectedly. He was giving them a portrait showing the last time they were all together. It was profoundly impactful for him and something that family can treasure, he said.

“This is something I want to be able to give to these families,” Church said of the hundreds of portraits yet to be taken on this road trip.

The father-son duo is traveling in a small car - this is no caravan of props, backdrops and lights.

“I’m really good on location,” Church said, explaining shoot locations on the trip could be at the family home, backyard, wherever - he wants “a spot that’s part of their story.

“Every shot is completely unique to that family. I’ll do what’s best for the family - plus it’s what I’m really good at,” he said.

His son, while generally sheltered from Church’s professional life, has worked the Free Family Portrait days that Church offers annually at his Lebanon studio. Each year his son comes along, and “plays ringmaster,” Church said. “He’s very good with people - he’s very good at localizing and feeling at home wherever he is. He’s like his dad.”

There are no worries that Church will be photographing family after family, and his pre-teen son will be in the car, wishing it were almost over. “He’ll find a spot for himself (in the process)” Church said confidently.

At the time of the interview, Church was thinking the duo would cut over from south central Pennsylvania to Detroit and Chicago, across to Las Vegas and then to Southern California. They could take a completely different route back, depending on how the journey plays out and families line up. He’d like to use as much of Route 66 as he can on the way out - throwing a nostalgic ‘good ole America’ element into their travel.

The trip will start at the end of June and go well into July, with the exact start date being determined by his son’s extra-curricular schedule.

The inspiration for this trip is two-fold.

“I feel that window closing,” Church said of having dedicated time with his son. “When you have a kid - especially a smart kid - they figure everything out faster. He’s already miles ahead of me. There’s a point where your sons don’t hug you anymore,” he said, and he wants to bask in that window of bonding opportunity while it’s here.

Church said the opportunity to capture on film all different walks of life is exciting enough, but in this trip getting to know the stories of these families is part of the experience he gets to share with his son.

“He’s worked with all kinds of people,” he said, “and my job (on this trip) is not simple. All those families are important and I want to work in as many as I can.”

In addition to the hundreds of people they will meet and work with along the way, Church is eager to show his son places important in his childhood. That’s why the destination on the west end of the trip is San Diego, where he grew up.

At home, Church has weathered more protests than the average business owner. His primary work is glamour photography, but in small, rural community where the majority of residents describe themselves as religious and conservative, his gallery shows were often protested and in the past have been shut down by township governments who disagree with his expression of art.

While right now his business is primarily doing corporate work, “I’ll always be a glamour photographer, always,” Church said. This year he earned a rare achievement in the photography world by now having his work featured in the trifecta of adult publications: Hustler, Playboy and Penthouse. He broke into Playboy first and had worked with Penthouse quite a bit before landing his first Hustler cover credit in the May 2017 edition.

“I’m not ashamed of any of the stuff I’ve done,” Church says bluntly. “I won porn. I will be a glamour photographer always. I don’t mind doing what I’m good at.

“But my favorite place is the place I’ve never been, my favorite job is the one I’ve never done - like this road trip,” Church explained.

As a parent, he’s had to keep a good bit of what he’s done professionally as a glamour photographer separate from his dinner table conversation, “and not expose him to that,” Church said of involving his son in most of his art. Inevitably, when his son grows up he will learn and see more of his father’s art that he didn’t know about as a child.

“This (road trip) is hopefully how he remembers his dad’s job to be. This is how I want him to see me and remember me. I want this to be the (lasting) memory when I’m not around anymore.

“I think it’s important that every parent find a way to connect (with their child). I don’t ever want to regret the time I had with my son.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2p1aRLj

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Information from: Lebanon Daily News, https://www.ldnews.com


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