The portrait you make can mean a lot

Samantha Aarts, Mary Pope’s 18-year-old daughter modeled for one of my lighting classes last year. She passed away from an accidental morphine overdose.

I have my days when I think of what I do for a living to be a joke.

It takes but a fraction of a second to make a picture.

While I was at the newspaper, except for natural disasters which affected many lives, the importance of my photography was seldom real.

Often I would ask myself, “Why am I being dispatched to traffic collision especially if it happened hours ago?”

Was it ever going to change how people drive?

Would people think twice about texting or drinking and driving after reading about it?

I highly doubt it.

Samantha Nicole Aarts Dec 17, 1991 – November 24, 2010

Journalists like to think the stories they bring you daily carries that much weight.

Nothing hits home harder than hearing a story first hand.

I met Samantha Aarts through her mum, Mary Pope when they modeled for my students and I during Small Flash Lighting workshop.

Shortly after, Samantha passed away from an accidental morphine overdose.

Her mum  Mary Pope, a dear friend,  has taken on a huge challenge.

She recently spoke to incoming freshmen at Cal State University San Bernardino during their orientation.

Because this extremely courageous mother shared her painful story in such an intimate way, I dare say that those who heard her story will surely think next time they head to a party.

She contacted me to say she was giving such a presentation and that she would have the portrait I made of Samantha on the stage with her.

The more time I had to think about it, the more I realized how important and special a still photograph or portrait can be for loved ones.

Mary and Samantha modeled for me when I taught a class on lighting.

Afterwards, I did some portraits of Samantha for Mary.

I didn’t get to know Samantha very well, but I could see she was a very special young lady who loved her life and what her mother had provided.

There was a very special bond there.

I was very bummed I couldn’t be there to hear Mary speak in person.

I could only record and share the coverage from one of the tv stations (KCAL-9) below.


My friend Press-Enterprise columnist, Dan Bernstein, had this to say in his column.

Peter Phun Photography

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8 thoughts on “The portrait you make can mean a lot”

  1. Hi Alina,
    Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog and to comment.

    Samantha was not a habitual drug user. As far as I know, that was the first time she tried something at one of those parties.

    A terrible accident and poor judgement is how her mum, Mary put it. It doesn’t make it any easier to try and make sense of this.

    That’s why Mary has been speaking to young people every chance she gets about the dangers of this sort of behavior.

  2. Hi Peter! You story is sad and also informative as well. Because of drugs plenty of talented boys and girls are losing there precious life. I don’t take such stuff but from now on I’ll aware others from drugs. Thanks

  3. Dear Peter,
    Very sad to know about the demise of Samantha at such a young age.May Christ give courage to Mary to bear this great loss. She is doing a noble work which could save many lives in future. The portrait of Samantha by you is a great strength for Mary.I wish her all my good wishes for this great cause.

    1. Hello B S Latwal,
      Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. The next time I see Mary, I will mention this post. I’m sure she will appreciate your good wishes especially since it comes from a complete stranger. It is heartening to see this sort of compassion for a stranger’s pain. Bless you.

  4. Hector,
    I am forever connected to Mary Pope because of Samantha’s picture.

    In the English language, there is a word for a child who loses their parents–orphan.

    There is no word for when a parent loses their child.

  5. Jo,
    I run into Mary often. Each time I see her, she tells me she is so thankful that I provided her with such a memory.

    I am humbled by this extraordinary single mother who has raised 3 daughters working 2 jobs.

  6. Peter, what a sad story. As a father, no one knows how the pain can be felt. What a courageous mother. Putting aside her sorrows and trying to help other young people. I hoped it has helped many young students or people on the dangers of drugs.

  7. Peter, what a story. I remember when you posted your first one about this lovely young woman. Rounding it out with her mother’s determination and generosity – oh, it’s so beautiful and so heart-breaking.

    How amazing (but not surprising) that you took these remarkable photos of Samantha. What a gift for her Mom.

    It took a fraction of a second, many years of training and a lifetime of compassion and grace to capture this young life as you did.

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