Photography Book ‘An Ordinary Day’ Portrays Children with Rare Genetic Diseases

Photography Book ‘An Ordinary Day’ Portrays Children with Rare Genetic Diseases

The New York portrait photographer Karen Haberberg has taken thousands of pictures of families, couples, pregnant women, teenagers, and fashion models — not to mention dramatic landscapes from Iceland to Indonesia.

She’s also done several personal projects, including “Benjamin,” a haunting portrayal of her father’s experience as a Holocaust survivor in Poland, and “Kenny,” which profiles a young farmworker with congenital disabilities.

Haberberg’s latest project focuses on children with rare genetic disorders.

Karen Haberberg
Karen Haberberg

“An Ordinary Day” presents the stories of 27 families with children such as Ethan, a boy with Angelman syndrome; Tara, a teenager with both Crohn’s disease and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis; and Jamesy, a 7-year-old with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The hardcover volume, which went on sale Oct. 24, retails for $45. Proceeds will go toward research on treatments for rare genetic disorders.

The book “gives a voice to families raising children with rare genetic disorders,” Haberberg’s website says. “Despite the complexity of their individual circumstances, the book — featuring photographs, interviews and a list of informative resources — captures family life in all its simplicity and humanity.”

Haberberg said the idea for her ambitious project sprang from deep personal loss.

“My brother died of Tay-Sachs disease in 1969, so I was always interested in genetics,” she told IBD News Today in a phone interview from New York. “More recently, my best friend had a child with Angelman syndrome, and in watching her struggle and hearing day to day what she was going through, I felt like I needed to do something for this community. My first shoot was a family in New Jersey that had a child with Tay-Sachs.”

Jamesy has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and often sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber to help improve his breathing. His dad always joins him. (Photo by Karen Haberberg)

Haberberg contacted Global Genes, a nonprofit advocacy organization, about her project. It publicized it on its website.

“People just started coming to me” about shooting photos, she said. “I then ran a Kickstarter to raise money to travel, and spent a lot of time photographing in California and on the East Coast.”

Asked how the children reacted to her work, Haberberg — who has two of her own, Maya and Liam — said she was “really there more as an observer. I don’t set up any of these shots. A lot of these kids are not even aware that I’m photographing. So it’s more about just respecting the families and what they’re doing. I try and just fit in.”

Haberberg spent two years on the endeavor, narrowing more than 10,000 photos down to the 103 that appear in the coffee-table book.

Ordinary Day
Karen Haberberg’s book “An Ordinary Day” portrays 27 American families with children who  have rare genetic conditions.

“The people who contacted me really wanted to tell their stories. They’re very pro-active about their kids,” she said. “Unfortunately I had to end up turning people away because I couldn’t afford to visit everybody.”

A New York native, Haberberg earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology at Brandeis University, then a master’s in art and technology at New York’s International Center for Photography. She also did a six-month stint at Tel Aviv University in Israel.  She’s now teaching photography at New York University, the 92Y and the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan.

She’s curated a number of photo exhibitions, and her work has appeared in many newspapers and magazines, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Family Magazine, Fit Pregnancy and Time Out New York.

“The book’s been incredibly well-received,” said Haberberg, who shoots with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV digital camera as well as a Sony A7R3 full-frame mirrorless camera. “I had an opening event and got lots of press. It’s a difficult subject, I think, but it’s really important for people to be aware how common rare genetic diseases are.”