As large as the photography community is in a whole, it seems small and intimate when a crisis attacks one of our own. We have seen photographers unite and rally when another is hit with tragedy. However the way one couple decided to deal with the crisis themselves leads to a whole new way of thinking for personal projects and photography shoots.
Joe Hoddinott and Jess McIntern, (no, that’s not her real last name,) are collectively known as "J-Squared." They met while Joe was working on some personal projects. While undergoing some work/life balance changes, he put out a model call for an underwater shoot in 2012.
As I began to resurrect my photographic career and passion after a divorce and life changing upheaval, I made a promise to keep something for myself and devote my time to it. The importance of that decision can be difficult to explain to people. Not everyone understands why personal projects are important to an emotionally right-brained artist.
He wrote that their "how we met" was a bit cliché but nonetheless still important on how things were to follow.
Photographer meets a girl during a photo-shoot, they fall in love and she becomes his muse. The end." Or rather I should say, "The beginning." When Jess walked in the door, it was complete love at first sight… well for me anyway. I had just become content being alone and focusing on my work, but Jess changed all that the moment I met her. They always tell you that you’ll know when you find your soulmate and I immediately knew she was the one.
One of the first projects they worked on together was photographing underwater portraits which was something he had always wanted to do. He was enamored by idea of photographing this woman in the type of photography he held in such high reverence but had never attempted before.
"It was orders of magnitude more difficult than I imagined - I think out of the hundreds of frames I captured I had maybe five that were worth a damn. But damn were they worth it! It was everything I wanted it to be and more... and so was she."
Their sessions underwater has become the summertime ritual. They evolved their methods year after year and did it on their own. Just the two of them making art and answering to no one else. It didn’t take long for people in and out of the local art community to start to identify them with this work. Between the local papers, several blogs and internet magazines, the work was becoming well known in the industry.
The fact that the woman I was photographing took my breath away while she was holding hers was some karmic dream come true. Making art with her was all that mattered to me. The attention was very welcomed, but it was always secondary. This art was for us and I was truly a lucky photographer to have such a muse and to be able to keep my promise to myself.
This is where it became much more than the cliché love story. On March 8th 2016, Jess was diagnosed with Stage 1, triple positive invasive mammary carcinoma at the age of 28. She would need chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation in addition to the countless other doctors visits, tests, procedures and medications along the way.
Photography might have been the last thing on Hoddinott's mind, but it turns out it was the first thing on mind of McIntern. Almost every one of life’s simple pleasures like exercise, lying in the sun at the beach, drinking beer, dining out - being a normal healthy 28 year old - were taken away from her in exchange for a new daily ritual of nauseating sickness and discomfort as her body became her worst enemy.
She made an incredibly bold declaration. She had decided that she wanted to photograph throughout her treatments as much as possible. Specifically, she wanted to continue creating the underwater images they were known so well for in the community. Photographing was a part of what was normalcy in their lives together before her diagnosis and keeping any aspect of "normal" became very important to them both.
As her hair fell out, she held her breath and we photographed. As her energy levels dropped, she held her breath and we photographed. As long as she wasn’t deathly sick, she held her breath and we photographed. We timed our sessions around the better days between chemo treatments. She was more passionate about making these underwater images than ever before. I’m convinced that this desperate need to maintain a small sense of normalcy and that decision to press on with our underwater project helped us survive her taxing treatment.
McIntern has shown her strength in so many ways since being diagnosed. She has documented, in one form or another, her entire experience thus far. Showing these images with her social interaction caught the attention of many others who were going through their own trials. Hoddinott wrote that these underwater photos of what people imagined what should be a bedridden, frail girl were exactly the opposite of that. The looks were beautiful, not sick. They were strong, not emaciated. She in control and not like a victim.
That’s who Jess is. That is what it’s like to Fight Like Jess.
"What started out as a simple personal project has evolved into the most valuable and important imagery I have ever created" write Hoddinott. "My own work has transcended into something of much greater meaning than I could have ever imagined. I am honored to have it represent such an amazing human being and her fight, even if those photos were just for us."
Jess has currently completed chemotherapy and is recovering from a lumpectomy and lymph node biopsy. She starts a 6 week radiation regimen in October, 2016.
To honor breast cancer awareness month, "Hold Your Breath" gallery show opens at The Delaware Contemporary on Friday, October 7th in Wilmington, DE. Helping other people, raising awareness and generating funds toward research are a part of their future. All proceeds from sales of any of these images go toward Jess’ continuing recovery and charity organizations of her choice.
Read about Jess and her fight:
See more from the photographer and muse at:
Instagram & Twitter: @Phojoegraphy