As a photographer, I get the privilege of working with amazing people. I get to witness life-changing events and capture memories that will be treasured for generations. I create little bonds with everyone I work with, and a little piece of my heart is embedded in every photograph that I hand over. It is truly a labor of love.
In May I traveled to Austin, TX to participate in a Retreat for women who had undergone mastectomy's. There were three other photographers as well from North Carolina and Canada. Our job was to shoot boudoir sessions for each of the ladies who were in attendance. Never, in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the impact I would have on others, nor the impact they would have on me.
Here is my first-hand account of the moment that changed me forever.
The morning of our boudoir marathon, the photographers decided to pair-up. Each of us had a particular skill-set that would benefit the others. Shannon Davenport from One Eleven photography and I teamed up. We made our way through the morning meeting each of the women, hearing their stories and photographing them. The atmosphere was charged with nervousness, excitement and anticipation.
It was time for our next participant, I opened the door and sitting in the chair was this glowing southern bell named Pam, who was all dolled up. I told her how stunning she looked, to which she replied, "I wanted to be glamorous", and that she WAS.
I walked into the room to talk with her about her outfits and Ideas, and go over any concerns she may have. She showed me her beautiful outfit and began to reveal a little about herself. She had undergone a mastectomy she said "I had reconstruction that failed after many surgeries and infections after my swap from expanders to silicone implants, 2 months later my skin ripped I flew to San Antonio and had a 4 and half surgery to be deconstructed." This was devastating for her. She confessed that not even her husband had seen her bare chest. I paused for a brief moment to let that sink in. I asked her if she was comfortable doing this. I said, "we can just do a glamour session." She replied with tears in her eyes "I want to do this, I want to help people." As I began to get emotional, she belts out "I just need to grab my titties!" (It was a special bra with prosthetic inserts for women who have had mastectomies).
"Laughter through tears in my favorite emotion" -Steel Magnolias
Pam, Shannon, and I shot a little in the room fully dressed and decided to venture around the property.
We came to a set of stairs and decided to explore where they lead. We walked down into this beautiful oasis. It was completely secluded with lush greenery cascading down granite walls. It was just amazing. I looked at Pam and asked if she wanted to shoot their, she replied yes. With hesitation in her eyes she removed her prosthetic breasts and handed them to me. In that moment, I told her it was okay to feel vulnerable.. then I asked her how she felt. As tears streamed down her face, she bowed her head and covered herself.
I took a step back and let her have that moment. Then something happened... She looked up into the sky and opened herself to the heavens above.
The feeling still gives me chills. We all felt it, it was Gods presents in that moment. It was like- all of the shame, all of the insecurity, all of the fear was lifted away from her. She was free.
I do not recall Pam putting the prosthetics back on, I do remember her dancing with all of her "Sisters" and the pure JOY on her face later in the retreat.
I always felt that I was somehow "lead" to become a boudoir photographer and this is something that sounds ridiculous, I know. However, after being there at the retreat, and meeting these women, and having these spiritual experiences and connections, I know it is true. I was meant to be there. They tell me how I impacted their lives, I only hope they understand how they impacted mine.
If you or someone you know would like more information about the Retreat please visit http://retreat.sistersinscars.com/home/
Special Thanks to Shannon Davenport of One Eleven Photography http://oneelevenweddings.com/
Clique Boudoir Photography