A Picture for Hope
Local photographer to hold event to raise money for American Cancer Society
Photo by Mara Lavitt
HAMDEN — Michele Tenney of Orange thought maybe she was the only one who saw a sparkle in the eyes of her third infant son, born with a rare genetic condition that caused severe health problems and early on required him to breath through a tracheotomy.
But when Mia M. Malafonte took Collin’s photograph when he was 4 months old, Malafronte managed to capture that sparkle, leaving his mom amazed because it confirmed for her in a way that she wasn’t the only one to see that special something in her son.
"She puts on film, what’s in a person’s heart," Tenney said of Malafronte. "Her deep, loving spirit is what makes her exceptional in her field."
Malafronte, an award-winning photographer and owner of Malafronte Photography, is now putting a lot of that heart into a project to raise money for the American Cancer Society in honor of her late father, Louis A. Malafronte who died 17 years ago this month of brain cancer. He was 51.
She’s calling the project, "A Picture for Hope," because it was hope for his recovery that got her through her dad’s 10-month illness, even though he didn’t make it. Mia Malafronte is offering a 5- by 7-inch family photograph to be shot in her studio from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 26 for $30. Most of the fee, normally much higher, will be donated to the cause after costs.
"It’s always been a bad month," she said of October, which also is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. "I thought to myself about how so many people have been touched by cancer and thought this would be a good way to remember him, because he used to say, ‘friends come and go, but family will be forever."’
The fundraiser is also quite fitting because it was Louis A. Malafronte, a former U.S. Navy photographer, who inspired his daughter’s love of the art.
While he supported a wife and four children as a retail management advisor, Louis A. Malafronte spent many hours in the darkroom in the basement of the family home in Orange working at his hobby. As a Navy photographer, he accumulated an interesting portfolio though he served during peace time. His black and white pictures shot around the world include ship visitors Winston Churchill and Zsa-Zsa Gabor and sites like icebreakers going into Norway and civilians feeding pigeons in France.
The pictures for charity will be done in black and white because that will create "timeless" photos and it’s how Mia Malafronte’s dad shot some of his best work.
The father and daughter always had a special bond. Louis Malafronte rooted his youngest child on in every volleyball, basketball and softball game she played - and from the time she was a youngster, he also took the time to answer Mia’s many questions about photography and working the darkroom. He shared many of his tricks.
"Dad would say, ‘You don’t need props or a fancy background (to get the right picture). You get the light right and capture the look in their eyes," she recalls with a smile.
And she practices that simplicity in the studio.
Mia Malafronte said she regrets never asking her dad how his interest in photography began or whether he would have wanted it as a career. She’d love the chance to talk to him again.
"My dad was very tough externally, but a teddy bear inside," she said. "He always supported me and listened to me."
Mia loved taking pictures in high school - something she squeezed between many sports - and even found herself going to playgrounds in her spare time to photograph children, her favorite subjects because of their innocence and beauty. But it wasn’t until a few years following her dad’s death that she made photography a profession.
Distraught over her dad’s death freshman year of college, Mia left school.
"I gave up all my sports because I couldn’t play without him in the stands," she said. "I tried."
After holding a variety of jobs, a cousin who knew of her interest in photography called to encourage her to apply for a job opening he heard about at a local paper. She got the job after shooting her portfolio in one day, shadowing another newspaper photographer and eventually became a New Haven Register staffer until leaving a couple of years ago to launch her business. The studio is located on the second floor at 2679 Whitney Ave.
Mia Malafronte, mother of two, has a niche photographing children, infants and expectant moms, but also excels at shooting weddings, bar mitzvahs and sporting events, including many years of freelancing for the Yankees. She does well with rock stars as well - individual shots of Rolling Stones band members add an edge to her studio displays of pregnant moms and kids.
Faithful client Elizabeth Glatzel of Stratford knows all too well how important just the right photograph can be or become. Mia Malafronte went to the Glatzel home in December of 2006 to photograph Lillie, 2 and Helena, a few weeks old, staying triple the time she had planned to get just the right shots, Glatzel said.
"She really captured the essence of my kids," Glatzel said. "It was very obvious she’s a mother."
And that became more important than Glatzel ever imagined.
A few months later, the unthinkable happened. Lillie died in her sleep for no apparent reason; it was determined to likely have been caused by a syndrome that hits older children the way sudden infant death syndrome hits infants. Glatzel called Malafronte to get more pictures and the photographer made a huge image of Lillie for the funeral, declining to charge any money. It now hangs in the family home and Glatzel, pregnant now with another daughter, says, "it’s so important to have these pictures to share."
"It doesn’t surprise me at all that she’s having this fundraiser, knowing who she is and how much she cares," Glatzel said. "It’s perfect (as a way to raise money) because I always get the feeling it’s more than just a job because of the way she’s able to capture people."
Appointments are preferred for Family Photo Day at Malafronte Photography, but walk-ins are welcome at 2679 Whitney Ave. Please call 203-288-2880 or visit www.miamalafronte.com.