Sometimes when you need images that communicate who you are and your story, a headshot just isn’t going to cut it. Branwyn Lee came to our studio for her first professional photos after being diagnosed with breast cancer one year ago. She wanted these first photos to be a way to both close out and celebrate the most difficult year of her life, and how much stronger she is now.

A professional in the healthcare benefits industry, a wife, and a mother of three, Branwyn was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, electing to have a double mastectomy and chemotherapy treatment during a global pandemic. Which meant she had to go to all of her surgeries and appointments alone.

As hard as those long hours were in a hospital without any loved ones to hold her hand, she’s quick to say she never felt alone. The hospital staff became her family and took care of her, and her family and friends sent boxes of cards, gifts, and the kind words of support that kept her going.

How does her photographer, who just met her, know all this? Because that’s our job when taking someone’s portrait: to learn who someone is, why they want a portrait of themselves, what they need it to convey, and why.

When we crafted Branwyn’s session, we put together elements and made style choices that reflected her journey. We started the session with a very moving composition. Branwyn brought all of the cards and gifts she received, and the wigs she wore during painful chemotherapy treatments. We laid them around her and captured both the solemn memory of the pain, and the joy she feels when surrounded by the physical manifestation of love others feel for her.

Next, we played with the concept of breasts as femininity. We had an in-depth conversation about how some cancer survivors who have a mastectomy or double mastectomy choose to have reconstructive surgery, and some do not.

Can you look feminine without breasts? Why not be able to add prosthetic breasts under clothes some days, and leave them out on others? Why not wear breasts like some people wear lipstick?

After posing through some boudoir-inspired looks in lingerie designed specifically for “flatties,” (a term in the double-mastectomy world that we just learned about and LOVE: a “flattie” is someone who decides to have no reconstructions after a mastectomy and opts for an Aesthetically Flat Closure (AFC)), we rolled out a plain backdrop in a warm cream color reminiscent of WWII pinup illustrations, and styled it with a bold red lip and shoes with bows for a mixture of professional power and playful femininity.

We are so honored to have worked with Branwyn to photograph this milestone in her life! Photo sessions can be a cathartic way to make or celebrate a life transition, or even to help process powerful emotions. THAT is why we love what we do and why we believe a headshot is never “just a headshot.” We are always here for our clients to create something meaningful and unique to them and their story.

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