Starry Night - Coming Full Circle

Perhaps you're expecting some blog posting about Vincent Van Gogh's painting "Starry Night".  Or Don MacLean's unforgettable and haunting song "Vincent", which begins with the words, "Starry, starry night."  But no.  The Starry Night I'm referring to is a charitable event that I shot recently, and not for the first time.

Travel back with me most two years ago...  It's late fall 2014.  I had gotten my Canon 70D just three months earlier after being inspired by two friends who were photographers.  As I was beginning to learn to take photographs, and was busy photographing Brazen Races, I got it in my head to see if I could find a charity run to photograph.  I'd seen enough of them out at the lake where I often run, and so after doing some research, I discovered that the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation was holding an 8.5K run and 2 mile walk called Starry Night.  I figured there'd be no harm in reaching out to them to see if they needed a volunteer photographer.  Imagine my disappointment when they responded that they had already found one.  Though strangely enough, about an hour later, I got another email from someone else at the organization who said it was okay to have a second photographer.  It's a little strange how things turn out.

So there I was, on the afternoon of early November 2014 with my Canon 70D and a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens and the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.  There was another the photographer there, pro photographer Matt Welsh, who freely gave photographic advice to me.

Flash forward now, almost two years later.  This time I would be photographing Starry Night on my own.  And unlike the nervous noob photographer in 2014, on event day in 2016 I was a semi-noob photographer who was a little less nervous.  Armed with my Fuji X-T1 with 50-140mm f/2.8 lens (70-200mm field of view on the APS-C sensor) and my Fuji X-T2 with 16-55mm f/2.8 lens (24-70mm field of view on the APS-C sensor), I set out to capture the evening event.

You're probably wondering why the event is called Starry Night.  It's named for the lanterns that will be lit in the evening to honor those children who suffer from the various forms of brain tumors.  The lanterns give hope to the children and their families.  More on the different colored lanterns later on in the blog post.

The yellow stars and the names beneath the stars are the names of children who are currently suffering from brain tumors and also the names of those children (some adults today) who, with the help of oncology specialists (UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in the Northern California) have survived their battle with cancer.

I met Audrey two years ago at the first annual event.  I think she was three or four years old back then.  I was happy to know that she's doing better due to the treatments, though she was unable to show up to the event this year.

You can see from the above photo that it's a pretty major event.  Various tents set up for registration, and food, and merchandise (many free for the children), plus a photo booth run by a volunteer with a Fuji Instax-like camera, and a special tent for the Stars.

Another tent was being run by a sorority and fraternity from nearby San Francisco State University where the children could get their faces painted.

And they're off!  The 8.5km run and the 2 mile walk all started at the same time.  Why 8.5k?  8.5k or 5.3 miles is roughly 28,000 children's steps.  Each step represents one of the approximately 28,000 children in the United States suffering from a brain tumor.  It was nice to once again see some of the stars participating in the walk.  Some of them aren't well enough to run, and one used a wheelchair and was surrounded by a lot of family and friends.

The race is the fun part of the event, but as the skies darken and night comes, a much more solemn portion of Starry Night begins: the lantern ceremony.

Each lantern color has significant meaning.  Yellow represents the stars, the survivors or children who are still dealing with brain tumors.  The stars carry a small tea light and place the light into a yellow lantern, and they're accompanied by their family and friends.  The blue lanterns represent those who lost their lives to brain tumors.  Watching those lanterns being lit is heartbreaking.  The white lanterns represent the thousands of other children across the nation who are still battling brain tumors.

Some of the lanterns had little notes on them, such as the one above.

I intentionally left out the metadata from the photos because the purpose of this blog post was to focus on the event itself, and some of my recollections of it.  As I always do, I've posted some of the highlights of the event in this Flicker Album.

Perhaps if you find yourself outdoors during a clear night with a full view of the stars, think of the children that each star in the starry night represents.