Josh Rossi is known for taking striking photos with adorable kids. The photographer even went viral earlier this year for the Beauty and the Beast-themed photo shoot he did with his daughter, as well as a Wonder Woman-themed shoot back in 2016. Now, he’s back with another empowering photo series inspired by the movies — and this one might just tug at your heartstrings in a way you weren’t expecting.
Rossi says the inspiration for it came not long after his Wonder Woman photos went viral. During that time, strangers contacted him from all over the world to comment on the photo shoot and share their own stories. As it turned out, many of those messages came from parents of sick kids — some suffering from cancer, others living with chronic disabilities. But in more than one case, Rossi says, the parents were sure to note that their child was “the real superhero.” He couldn’t agree more.
And so, with that in mind, a new photo series was born — this time, channeling famed comic characters of the Justice League.
“I decided that I needed to find the REAL superheroes out there, and do a photo shoot of them,” Rossi tells Babble.
So for the next two months, he employed the help of his wife Roxana, who worked tirelessly to find children whose stories of adversity and triumph closely resembled those of the characters they would portray in front of the camera.
“We wanted the kids to have similar traits or stories as the superheroes,” he explains.
Turns out, their hard work paid off — and what resulted was a truly inspiring series of images that’s taking the Internet by storm.
“Zaiden loves to run and has endless energy which also got him in trouble at school,” Rossi wrote in a blog post, about the boy who came to portray The Flash. But Zaiden has ADHD, and all his boundless energy hasn’t always been seen as a positive.
“Slowly Zaiden’s friends stopped inviting him to events and birthday parties and his mom said she saw the ‘light leave from his eyes,'” Rossi wrote. “This poor boy who needs friends and connection suddenly becoming an outcast.”
Rossi says hearing his story compelled him to turn Zaiden’s “weakness” into a strength. “I thought that turning Zaiden into The Flash would be perfect,” he explained, “Maybe now his friends will not only invite him to their parties but ask him to bring the suit and be the life of the party.”
Taking on the fearless role of Batman is an equally fearless 5-year-old named Simon Fullmer, who was diagnosed with a rare form of nerve cancer called neuroblastoma. According to his mom, Simon is “a quirky strong kid who never complains,” and is a huge fan of the Caped Crusader, as well as Bruce Wayne.
It seemed fitting, then, to turn little Simon into Gotham’s most fearless protector.
Channeling Wonder Woman is Sofie Loftus, who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma at just 3 years old.
Rossi shares that while her dream was to have long dark hair, she has since been dealing with losing all of it while undergoing radiation therapy, which often leaves her weak. In fact, she had just finished another round of radiation therapy before her photo shoot was scheduled — but as you can see, this fierce little lady mustered all the Wonder Woman strength within her, to create one powerful photo.
When it came to character of Cyborg, Rossi immediately knew that Kayden Kinckle was the perfect fit. The 5-year-old has been a double amputee for most of his life, after being born with omphalocele, a condition that causes the internal organs to grow outside the navel. Saving him meant amputating both his legs, but that was a risk Kayden’s mom was willing to take to have her little boy in her life.
“After seeing Kayden in person, I couldn’t believe how strong he was,” Rossi shares. “At a young age, as he was learning how to walk with prosthetic legs, he told his mom he wanted to do it by himself and didn’t want any help.”
Rossi notes that Kayden’s own story reminded him a lot of Cyborg. “In Cyborg’s younger years, he was a healthy boy until he had a horrible accident,” Rossi explains. “His father kept him alive by giving him robotic parts.”
Born with a condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), Teagan Pettit came into this world with only half a heart. But he’s proved right from the start that he’s a real fighter. Teagan’s had three open heart surgeries so far and cheated death two years ago while waiting for a heart transplant. And while he takes medication daily and even wears an oxygen mask at night, he recently celebrated a huge victory: getting his feeding tube removed.
But both Teagan and Superman have one weakness in common: their hearts.
“Superman grows weak when Kryptonite is near, whereas Teagan cannot regulate temperature because of his half heart,” Rossi writes in his blog. “Where a healthy kid’s body would warm up naturally, such as in a cool pool on a hot day, Teagan would come out with blue lips and have to be warmed up with blankets or another heat source. Teagan’s mom said that every day is a blessing.”
Needless to say, he definitely lives up to the reputation of the Man of Steel.
The sixth and final member of Rossi’s fearless Justice League is also the youngest: 2-year-old Mataese Manuma, who has a rare form of cancer called acute megakaryoblastic leukemia.
“This little man is a powerhouse!” shares Rossi. “The day of the photo shoot, he woke up with a fever after just barely finishing a round of chemo. His parents brought him to the hospital and after a few days was able to do the photoshoot.”
Just like Aquaman, Mataese is of Polynesian decent, and Rossi had a feeling he’d be a “perfect fit” to play the God of the water. As it turned out, he certainly was.
The photos themselves are breathtaking, but it’s hard to look at them and not be captivated by the costumes in particular. Rossi says each one was handmade and donated by designer Julie Whiteley, who spent three weeks creating the looks (and even pulled a few all-nighters in the process).
As for the photo shoots themselves, Rossi says they were each amazing and inspiring in their own special ways.
“Even though most of them had just come out of chemo and radiation treatments that same week, they were happy and excited to do the shoot,” he shares. “They didn’t complain and were getting into the poses I had for them. It was amazing being able to photograph these little strong people.”