She never could have imagined that sharing a photograph would change her life, but photographer Vanessa Hicks knows that life loves to throw curveballs. A Navy veteran and mother of two, Vanessa decided to pursue her passion for photography after her corporate job was cut one week before she and her husband were to spend a year apart due to his military commitment. “My husband asked, ‘if money wasn’t an issue,’ and it is, ‘what would you do? Maybe this is a wake up call for you to do something new.’ I blurted out, ‘I’d be a photographer.’ I thought he would laugh, instead he said, ‘try it out while I’m gone. If it works, great.’ And so I did and have not looked back since.”


There was nothing out of the ordinary that Monday when she shared an image from her client’s most recent photography shoot. She selected her favorite from the session, an infant cradled in an American flag held by his father, and uploaded it to her Facebook business page. By Friday, she would be surrounded by controversy, the number one trending topic on Facebook and Twitter, and find herself on the national news stage.


Here’s what happened.


Vanessa often documents many important moments of lives of her clients, so she was eager to upload a sneak peak of her latest session with a favorite family. “I had worked with this family for a while, including their maternity and Christmas session, and also went to the hospital to document the first forty-eight, images that are taken just hours or a couple of days after the birth of a child.” Vanessa and her clients knew that they would also do a newborn session just eight days later, so together she and the family researched possible images online and in digital media to find meaningful inspiration for their own shoot. “She’s [the mother] a veteran and the father of the baby is active duty. They both come from generations of military members and wanted to incorporate the military in the shoot. We did a number of beautiful shots, but as I was going through the photographs and getting ready to edit, the image of their baby cradled in the flag stood out to me as a favorite.” She posted the sneak peak and logged off.


“I woke up Tuesday to hundreds of notifications, which was very odd for a brand new photographer. But when I looked on it, it was people messaging me and telling me that my image was on a Facebook group intended to bash photographers. People were saying that I had desecrated the flag, they were bashing me and the service member.” Vanessa had become the victim of cyberbullies, and they were vicious. “I kind of broke down, because for the next twenty-four hours I was getting nothing but hate mail. And it was awful. People suggested that I kill myself, that my husband should be embarrassed to have me as a wife, and as a veteran I should be embarrassed.”

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