“I have breast cancer. Will you help me tell my story?”

20 10 2013

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month I’d like to share another amazing woman’s story and tell you how, in some small way, breast cancer photography helped this woman in her journey to recovery. I’m calling her “Rose”.

Our first contact with Rose was a phone call. She had a determined tone of voice on the phone, stating, ‘she didn’t want a consultation first’, ‘she was scheduled for a mastectomy’, ‘she would be bringing two friends with her for moral support’ and ‘she needed to get in right away now that she had made up her mind to do a photo shoot first’.

The following day three grim-faced ladies were on our doorstep, Rose leading the way, flanked by her two very skeptical friends. Rose made a striking first impression with her thick, shoulder-length, salt & pepper colored hair framing large expressive eyes. That day her eyes showed fear and fierce determination. During her photo shoot she revealed she was considering writing a book about her breast cancer journey and asked us if we would take the photos chronicling some of the significant steps and stages in her battle. We let her know we’d there for her whenever she called and how honored we were that she’d trust us in these most vulnerable moments.

We had four, post mastectomy, photo shoots through different steps of reconstruction and every photo shoot had a story. The evolution was something to behold perhaps even more on an emotional level than physical.

Shoot # 1. The first photo shoot was not long after her mastectomy. We made no attempt to minimize the emotions engraved upon her face- sorrow, loss, fear and determination. But that was only part of the story. Rose chose to wear black pants with a wide, embroidered, belt which was emblazoned with pink and red roses. Her expression, in juxtaposition with her colorful belt, let you know there was so much more to this fierce lady than your first impression.

Shoot # 2. The second photo shoot, meant to chronicle skin expanders, was more about love. For this shoot Rose arrived with her college-age daughter. And guess who was bald? Not Rose. Her daughter had shown up on Rose’s doorstep unannounced sporting a bald head as a show of solidarity for what lay ahead. The wardrobe selection for today was a prayer shawl. I learned there are groups of wonderful people who knit shawls of comfort and hope. I don’t know if all of the shawls are as beautiful as this shawl which looked like it was made of silk and mohair yarn with inspiring charms woven randomly through-out. While this shawl came from someone unknown, what certainly was known, is that the hands which created it made it with loving intention and that love was present with us on that day.

Shoot # 3. When I opened our front door there were two huge smiling eyes looking directly at me awaiting my reaction. “Rose, your eyes are so much more beautiful without all that hair!” Sure enough Rose decided proactively to shave her head and therefore spare herself the pain of finding clumps of hair on her pillow and everywhere else- the anticipated side effect of chemo treatments. And she really did look beautiful.

We then went a long time with no word from Rose or her daughter and began to worry about her but didn’t want to call her home and potentially upset her or her family. Finally, on a long shot, I searched Facebook for her and her daughter hoping I would find a hint about her prognosis. And there she was in a recent picture skiing with her family and enjoying life! I decided I could safely call her to see if she was ready for another photo shoot.

When she got back to me she said she was feeling great and wasn’t sure she would do another shoot after all but would let me know. Rose explained she didn’t think she really needed to tell her story now, that the process of documenting it had helped her get through the long ordeal and had given her the strength and motivation to keep on fighting through her despair. The goal of ‘helping others’ had ultimately helped her.

Shoot # 4. Rose called again. Friends had told Rose. “You have to tell your story. There are people in need waiting for it.” Now it was time for the happy pictures; the ones that give us hope for ourselves and our loved ones.

We did print out all the images Rose selected for her digital book though I truly don’t know if she published it or not. I do know Rose touched us and I hope her story from my eyes helps someone else.

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I’m just a real person.

22 04 2012

 

Within a few minutes of meeting a client the other day I heard this, “I’m just a real person.”  More than likely my facial expression registered a complete blank because we are all ‘real people’ with no need for the limiting adjective ‘just’ preceding the comment.  What she meant, of course, is that she isn’t a model or a fitness, figure, or body building competitor.  I think she wanted affirmation, mostly from herself, and maybe a little from me, that she’s a worthy subject for our kind of photography.  It’s for people like her that we started BodyPhotage so women could see the unique beauty of their body and begin to appreciate, accept and celebrate themselves.





The First Time I Was The Beautiful One.

2 03 2012

Several years ago a woman in her mid 40’s came for a consultation in contemplation of a photo shoot, which is how we like to begin the process.  Seems like you wouldn’t, perhaps shouldn’t, show up for a nude photo shoot without first determining you feel safe & comfortable with the photographer/s.  She’d brought a female friend to the consultation for moral support.  As is usually the case, she booked a photo shoot for a few weeks out and showed up for the shoot, on time, by herself.

As you might expect, most people come in a bit nervous never having done anything like this before and not sure what they are most nervous about; being naked in front of someone they don’t know or more fearful they aren’t going to look any good.  Five minutes into the shoot, the nervousness faded and two hours later she was walking a lot taller, with more confidence, and the knowledge that she was indeed beautiful in her own body.   We set an appointment for her to come back to look at the proof sheets, hugged her good-bye at the door saying we’d see her next week.

Darrell looked out the window about 10 minutes later and commented that he thought she was still parked out front and was concerned that perhaps she was having car trouble.  Before he could get out to inquire and check on her, she drove away.  The following week, Darrell asked if she had some car problems after her photo shoot.  This is how she explained the delay in leaving; “I’m a very successful and confident business woman.  However, as you probably noted, my friend who was with me for the consultation, is an exceptionally beautiful woman.  She and I have been best friends for more than 20 years and when I got to my car it hit me that this was the very first time that I felt like the beautiful one.  It was just such an unexpected and emotional revelation that I sat outside in my car crying for a while and processing the experience. It’s not a big deal really.”

But really it is. Sometimes it’s important to feel that special.