Mention the word superhero, and the images that come to mind are of fictional characters like Spiderman, Wonder Woman, or Batman. However, veteran photographer Josh Rossi has used his camera to unveil the world’s real superheroes – six young children who are battling severe diseases and disabilities.
The chain of events leading to the creative and heartwarming project began in 2016, when Rossi fulfilled his then three-year-old daughter’s dream of becoming Wonder Woman. Thanks to the $1,500-worth of handmade costume and props, as well as Rossi’s epic Photoshop skills, the photoshoot instantly became a viral sensation.
The Italian-born photographer says, soon after, “I got so many emails and calls from families who had children with diseases. They kept telling me that their kids were the REAL superheroes. After that, my wife and I decided to find the real superheroes in society.”
Since it was Wonder Woman that triggered the idea, Rossi decided to focus on the superheroes that will appear alongside her in the upcoming movie, Justice League. To make the photoshoot more meaningful to the kids, he matched each child with a superhero with whom they had the most in common.
The first member of the real-life “Justice League” was Kayden Kinckle. The five-year-old uses prosthetics to walk because both his legs had to be amputated due to a congenital disorder that caused his internal organs to grow outside his navel. When the photographer met with Kayden, he was taken in by the young boy’s inner strength. To Rossi, Kayden’s perfect superhero was Cyborg, who was a healthy boy before a terrible accident left him impaired, forcing his father to keep him alive with robotic parts.
Sofie Loftus, who has been battling a rare form of eye cancer since she was three-years old, fit the bill for Wonder Woman. According to Rossi, despite being weak from the radiation therapy she had undergone just days before the photoshoot, she stayed focused, posing with the fierceness that reminded him of the fictional superhero.
Teagan Pettit was born with only half a heart and has already undergone three open-heart surgeries. The nine-year-old, who is on the waiting list for a heart transplant, is a big fan of Superman, and Rossi believes it’s because they both have a weak heart. The fictional superhero grows weak when near Kryptonite, while Teagen’s half heart is too weak to regulate his body temperature. The photographer says, “Superman and Teagan both have hearts of steel!”
Two-year-old Mataese Manuma has a rare form of cancer called Acute megakaryoblastic leukemia. The youngest member of this “Justice League” woke up with a fever on the day of his photoshoot and had to be rushed to the hospital for chemotherapy. Since the “powerhouse,” as Rossi calls him, was still weak when he came to the studio a few days later, his brother helped by standing in for a few poses. The photographer then used his superior Photoshop skills to make the poster look authentic. Given that Mataese, just like Aquaman, is of Polynesian descent it was only befitting that he became the god of the sea.
Simon Fullmer, who suffers from a rare type of nerve cancer, is a big fan of Batman, and also Bruce Wayne “because he is rich.” According to his mom, the quirky five-year-old never complains and wants to know details about what treatment he is receiving. Since the brave boy is dealing with his ailments like a true superhero, Rossi thought he was the perfect Batman.
Zaiden Stolrow does not have a life-threatening disease. He has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a mental condition that affects over six million American children between the ages of 4-17. However, Zaiden’s severe hyperactivity and inability has made him an outcast. The seven-year-old is constantly in trouble in school because he can’t stand still and rarely gets invited to birthday parties, or other social events, by his peers. Wanting to turn the young boy’s weakness into his strength, Rossi made him the Justice League’s sixth and final member – The Flash!
Once the superheroes had been selected, Rossi reached out to professional costume designers, who not only completed the task within a short time but also, donated them for the worthy cause. According to the children’s parents, seeing themselves as superheros has made the kids feel more powerful and has strengthened their resolve to continue battling their painful conditions. Rossi, who intends to continue with the superhero shoots, says, “The message I want to convey is that our weaknesses are what make us strong.”
Resources: joshrossi.com, fulltimephotographer.com, abcnews.com