I feel like these children are kind of the whole state's responsibility. Anything we can do to help them find a home, I think, is really important. —Linda Boyd
SALT LAKE CITY — Linda Boyd brings her best self to every portrait she takes as a professional photographer.
But when photographing Utah foster children who are eligible for adoption, there's more at stake than capturing images that become cherished family heirlooms. These portraits help children find permanent homes.
"We really need to show these children in their best light, show their personalities and show how beautiful they are," Boyd said.
The portraits, which make up the Utah Heart Gallery, are on display at the Utah Capitol and online on the Utah Adoption Exchange website. The latest gallery was unveiled Wednesday night in the Capitol rotunda.
The portraits, taken by professional photographers who volunteer their services, are a prospective adoptive family's "initial contact" with children who need permanent families, said Boyd, who owns and operates Linda Boyd Photographic Artist Inc.
This is the ninth annual Utah Heart Gallery, which this year includes the work of 32 photographers. Fifty-eight percent of the more than 300 children who have participated over the years have been adopted.
This year's gallery features 45 children, including six sibling groups.
Kathy Searle, Utah director of programs for the Adoption Exchange, said "these children belong to all of us," which is why she has pushed hard to display the gallery at the state Capitol.
"We, as a state, can't be OK with them growing up in foster care," Searle said.
Having professional photographers volunteer their time to photograph the foster children helps build their self-esteem, she said.
"A lot of these kids don't feel like they're important," Searle said.
Children in foster care "can get lost in the system. The only people who care for them are paid by the state and they know that," she said.
Boyd has participated in the gallery for several years, hoping to improve the odds for children who want to be adopted. As a member of an advisory committee for the Utah Heart Gallery, she is able to keep tabs on the children she photographs, she said.
"I've been able to attend the adoption finalizations for two children, and I've been invited to others but unfortunately I wasn't able to go. It's such a marvelous experience for me to see that circle come together," Boyd said.
Nearly 4,700 children received foster care services from the state Division of Child and Family Services within the past year. Among 2,638 children in foster care, 166 are waiting to find adoptive homes. According to DCFS statistics for the 2012 fiscal year, 543 children in foster care were adopted, while 188 aged out of the system.
"I feel like these children are kind of the whole state's responsibility. Anything we can do to help them find a home, I think, is really important," Boyd said.
Last year, Boyd had two portraits in the gallery. This year, she worked with one child, a 13-year-old boy with disabilities named Moses.
"He's such a doll. He wanted to dance and hug. It took awhile to get a portrait of him," she said, laughing.
For photographers who volunteer their services — and several have for multiple years — giving back is rewarding, Boyd said.
"It's always great when you're able to give back with your craft, especially when you know you're helping a child," she said. "If you can't adopt yourself, you're helping a family adopt a child. That's a worthwhile cause that makes you feel good."