Thrilling Photo Series of Quadriplegic Mother and her Son

Her life was full of adventure

Until a routine surgery changed her world forever

I am a mother of two and it breaks my heart to even try and imagine the pain of not being able to reach out and hug them. We go into each day assuming that our lives will continue to roll by untouched, until something dreadful rocks our world, and turns it upside down.


Film by Courtney Holmes Films and Photos


Sarah-Jane went into surgery after suffering a herniated disc in her back while on the job as an outdoor education instructor.  Waking up from surgery the next day she found that she was no longer able to walk, or even hold her son. The operation had rendered her a quadriplegic.

Sarah-Jane Staszak has weathered a storm with Hamish by her side. Her dream for her son is that she can continue provide him life changing adventures, despite her physical limitations.  

When we heard SJ’s story, we immediately started devising a plan to help make this dream more of a reality. The Heart Project is all about bringing joy and hope through Photography.

This project however required an extra special force of nature Benjamin Von Wong

It was not enough for me to want to provide adventure through a studio based photo. We knew that the reality of taking SJ and Hamish back to the familiar rock faces of the Blue Mountains required an extraordinary team and an artist that takes his photography to the outer limits. 

Von Wong is a conceptual photographer who takes photos that people think are Photoshopped. Collaborating with Benjamin made so much sense. Our methods are different. I Photoshop images together to create false reality. Our reasons for creating however are the same. We want to make a difference with our work. We tell stories, and in telling those stories hope to bring change to our world.

Behind the Scenes Photos by Courtney Holmes Films and Photos

Von Wong scaled the side of a misty mountain to photograph SJ and Hamish’s epic adventure. Meanwhile, I stayed safely on the sidelines capturing my background plates that made up the adventure scenes I’d planned in my mind.

SJ and her son’s love for adventure prompted the theme for my series of three images. I wanted to show their connection through my work, highlighting the mother and son dynamic at play.

My first background plate was captured early in our adventure at some ruins at the base of the Blue Mountains. 


Weathering the rain in our marshmallow ponchos, I pictured the final photograph as I set up my shots. In this first piece I wanted Hamish’s new role of protection to be the theme.


The Rescue (c) Karen Alsop 2017

SJ’s strength and determination to support Hamish despite her limitations is evident to all that know them. In my second piece it was this motherly, protective drive that I wanted to showcase. In this classic adventure scene Sarah-Jane hurtles out of a train tunnel with Hamish hanging on for dear life.


To achieve the sense of a train chasing them, we set up our lighting and smoke machine in the tunnel, backlighting the smoke to give the effect of an approaching train. 


Tunnel of Life (c) Karen Alsop 2017

The most emotional image for me, and also for SJ, was Leap of Faith’. Taking SJ out of her chair, freeing her from her quadriplegia in Photoshop was bittersweet. Since the surgery, SJ has hoped for a return to normality, but as the years have progressed she has come to the realisation that her chair is her ‘new normal’. 


I do believe in miracles, and as time goes on, my hope for SJ is that her movement will improve, her pain and strain will decrease and medical miracles will provide better quality of life for her and her son.


Leap of Faith (c) Karen Alsop

The special thing about this project was that this was a true adventure for SJ and Hamish. The experience they had with Von Wong’s shoot, though hard work, was a reality that they will be able to relive again and again, looking at his incredible REAL photographs on their wall. His imagery provides real memories for them while my Photoshopped images throw them into an adventure story.

Head over to Von Wong’s blog post to watch his video and experience his part of this adventure!


Want to support SJ’s desire to make The Blue Mountains more accessible for the disabled community? Visit to her GoFundMe page and pledge your support.



With special thanks to Adobe Australia

And EIZO Australia, Kayell Australia, Wacom, Canson and Tether Tools


Photographers:  Karen Alsop and Benjamin Von Wong

Producer: Adam Cubito

Film Director: Courtney Holmes

Videographer: Valentina Vee

HMA: Paris Ambrose

Technical liaison: Jake Anderson

Safety: Blue Mountains Adventure Company

Assistants: Stuart Alsop, Brian Bird, Yvette Martinette, Nikki Miller, Karley Miller, Don Rajadurai

Additional thanks to: Glen Isla Luxury Blue Mountains Accommodation, Woolworths & BWS Leura, Cindy Chen at Adobe Australia, Art Defined

This is part of The Heart Project initiative. More about the Heart Project an be found on the website:

For all media enquiries please visit:

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