Intimate Photography to Help Clients Cope With Life-Changing Illnesses

Intimate Photography to Help Clients Cope With Life-Changing Illnesses

Have you ever thought that your photography may have a positive impact on someone's life so much so it helps them cope during traumatic life transitions and illnesses? Because it can.

As someone who shoots boudoir alongside the weddings, I always knew that this type of intimate photography could and should become a life-long reminder to clients that their life, bodies, and minds should be admired, and as such documented. It could be a way of celebrating a weight loss journey, or perhaps getting through a draining relationship to regain power and energy, or maybe to remind yourself that you as you are today is something worth celebrating in its own right.

To do exactly that, a client whom I'll call Rob for the sake of this article and to keep his identity anonymous, got in touch with me through my boudoir website. In the first few emails Rob was surprisingly open and honest about finding out that he recently got diagnosed with a life-changing illness which was inevitably a shock to him. As someone who regularly keeps fit, travels the world, enjoys the life's luxuries, but has suddenly received a diagnosis that would throw anyone's life in a whirlwind of the unknown, it unsurprisingly made him question "why me?"

After a longer exchange of emails which helped us to get to know each other more, we opted for a soft, intimate, and arty boudoir session in his own home. The strength to bare it in front of a stranger, physically and mentally, Rob received through days and nights of realizing that his body and mind will inevitably deteriorate as part of the illness, and as such he wants to commemorate his life as it stands today. His life experience, his personality, and sexuality were the things I, as a photographer, had to make sure I honor in our photoshoot. 

“I wanted to shock and not be labeled,” Rob said. “I wanted to let go and do the things I'd never dreamed of doing. I wanted to fill my life before I became unable. I guess some of it was anger!”

Sometimes, as a photographer that works with people, I am reminded that we can never take for granted the ways we can change people's lives, even if it's simply the smallest thing, such as capturing a brief moment between two people that may mean the world in the future when one of them is gone. And, same goes for working with people who may be looking for ways to express themselves through being in front of the camera, and showing their emotions and deepest thoughts in a way they could never do it in front of a close family member or friend.

A bare man sat crossed legs, holding a bunch of flowers.

Image from a similar photoshoot with a different model.

The session began with some simple portraiture to bring out Rob's life through his eyes and expressions, and eventually led to more arty and tasteful partially nude work. I find it's very helpful to start slowly and ease both yourself and the client into it, as opposed to jumping straight into it as you would often do with models. Adding a relaxing lunch break in the middle to break up the session helped us go away from shooting for a moment, only to come back with a fresh mind and ideas. Furthermore, I also brought my laptop to do a few quick edits to allow Rob see how my mind works, and how I go from shooting a raw image and transforming it into a visual statement that emphasizes his features and expressions. 

As someone who connected with Rob during our pre-shoot and after-shoot email conversations and throughout the photoshoot itself, it was very important for me to ask him whether his outlook on life and himself has changed in anyway since we worked together, and his answer gave me so much to be thankful for working in this industry, and inspiration to keep going.

He said: “I've come to terms with it. I returned to a normal working life and I'm learning to adapt to it. Physically it's barely noticeable, unless I'm stressed or tired. I realize my body is my body. If I can help anyone feel better about life I can't wait to do it again and strangely I want to be bolder. It's my secret. I think it helped to give back my confidence. I look at the pics and think I still have life to live.”

Have you ever though about your photography as something that could actually change or at least have an impact on someone's life? Have you ever had clients that give you the courage to keep going?

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Julien Menetrat's picture

This article comes at the very best moment for me. I'm not a professional photographer but find myself in this same position. Thanks for that inspiring post, it'll really help motivate me when I thought I would not be able to do that for someone. Will do my best, whatever it takes, it's all about her.

Anete Lusina's picture

You most definitely can do a little something for someone that'll mean a lot for them in the long run, even if they don't see it that way at first! :)

Jules H's picture

Your photos and the sensitivity you show that come across in your words are admirable and I doubt this is was a shoot you will forget any time soon.

But I'd like to put the shoe on the other foot for a moment, as a stark reminder to all photographers, from amateurs to long time pro's.

I grew up watching my dad taking photographs, having me pose for him then watching him in his darkroom as images of me leaning against one of the rocks at Stonehenge, or holding an umbrella in the garden started to emerge. I was fascinated and about 12 years old. I wasn't allowed my own decent camera back then, kids switch hobbies at that age so quickly, but photography stayed with me.
I'm not a pro, I doubt I ever will be, even though I've been shooting for over a decade.

I think over the last decade I've accumulated over 8'000 photo's I've taken, and loved every minute of it.

But tragedy struck in a big way and very rapidly. It started with me damaging both shoulders within a month of eachother. While waiting for surgery, due to the strong pain relief needed, I wasn't able to think clearly or make managerial decisions. Then bang! Lost my job, my home, developed osteoarthritis in all main joints so could barely manage the stairs, letalone get out on a photo shoot. I developed spinal problems and... well, the list of health problems became endless. But, no matter what my health prevented me from doing, I could still photography garden birds, focusing on close up wing spans etc.

I've been stressing about so much lately it triggered a small stroke.
I'm right handed, and the the mini stroke symptoms didn't last (it happened while I was asleep), I woke the following morning to find the most horrendous, heart breaking symptom it had left me with, a paralysed right hand !!

I've had to sit on my hospital bed in the living room (my spine dislodges in several places if I lay flat) with my camera incase I drop it and practice just holding the camera and trying to figure out the best way and quickest to get the settings changed, then using a remote with my left hand.

I'm still practicing and perservering with it, but my point of this, of what I've written, it isn't to derail the excellent article above that deserves a lot of credit, but while the article shows you someone elses life, I wanted you to also take on-board how that man in the article who was so brave to bare his illness to the camera, he could so easily have been a long time pro photographer himself.
Just bear in mind how quickly you could lose everything permenantly overnight, just like that. How would you feel?

Enjoy capturing life as often as you can, in whatever capacity, because like me, you never know when that last days' shoot will be your final one.

Anete Lusina's picture

Thank you Jules for your wonderful comment. Indeed, it's cliche and said so many times but we really don't truly appreciate things until they're gone or we're faced with the potential of losing them. I can only admire your strength and courage, and motivation to continue to push yourself after such a painful time in your life.

I can only imagine the pain, not so much physical, but psychological of not being able to use the biggest tool we have - our hand and fingers, to do what you love so much. I'm sending you all the love and well wishes to find yourself enjoying photography and art as much as you can. I've worked with a fellow photographer who has completely lost one arm and I was in awe watching him shoot, change the settings, change the studio set-up with such an ease. Whatever happens, there's always a way if this is what your heart desires, just like for some it's writing poetry or songs, drawing or painting.

If you'd ever like me to write about your journey, please do get in touch, I love getting to know inspirational people all around me!