Josh Rossi photographs superheroes. In one session, he got Superman to stand still long enough for his red cape to artfully billow. This “man of steel” – actually a determined nine-year-old with a life-threatening heart defect – is indeed more powerful than a locomotive.
As part of an unusual photo project, Rossi and his wife Roxana transformed six children with major illnesses and disabilities into members of the famed Justice League. The images attracted more than 100 million online views.
Rossi started his Justice League project after a Halloween photo shoot with his daughter, Nellee. He created digitally-enhanced backgrounds, dressed the healthy, spirited girl as Wonder Woman and had her strike a pose.
The photos struck a chord with parents of critically-ill children around the world.
“I had people contact me saying, ‘This is my child — they are the real superheroes.’”
So Rossi and his wife Roxana set out to create special memories for children and their families facing life-threatening conditions, and in the process the couple began contacting hospitals.
Searching for superheroes
“After weeks and weeks of calling hospitals and trying to find these kids, it became impossible because of red tape,” Rossi told CNN. “The hospitals couldn’t release information to us.”
The Utah-based artist and his wife then took on a partner to help with the project. But still no luck, causing the couple to almost give up on their dream.
After three months, the Rossis found out the partner with whom they shared their idea was moving forward on the idea without them.
“I was so angry,” Rossi said. “I don’t know if it was grace or my own anger pushing me but I had this fire inside.”
The couple began to feverishly reach out to friends and family, which ultimately led to the perfect superheroes for the project.
Turning weakness into strength
Each child was matched with his or her favorite member of the Justice League.
Nine-year-old Teagan, for example, was featured as Superman. Teagan is strong, just like the famous superhero but courageously battles a heart defect that isn’t outwardly apparent to the eye.
Eight-year-old Zaiden deals with severe ADHD and loves to run. His Justice League character — Flash.
Four-year-old Sophie is Wonder Woman. She courageously battles Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form cancer.
For Rossi and his wife, it was important that each child see themselves as strong, powerful, and whole, and “to turn weaknesses into strengths,” the father of two said.
The Next Big Idea
Rossi credits much of the success of his Justice League photo series to his wife, Roxana.
“I could not have done it without her.”
Together they are producing their next big project: casting a heroic light on bullied children.