Photography is not only a creative outlet for the photographer, but it also can provide healing to your clients. Most boudoir sessions are sought after in order to gain confidence, many family sessions are there to capture generations for preservation, and even underwater sessions can provide a healing to clients who are in need of the surreal emotions that come with being submerged.
Warning: somewhat graphic material ahead of surgery scars.
In a past article, Photographer Joe Hoddinot and his girlfriend Jess McIntern worked up a series of underwater portraits to help with the emotional side of McIntern's cancer. They photographed her throughout the cancer and treatments in order to give her some normalcy to her ever changing life. The sessions also gave them something to look forward to for the creative in both of them.
For my own underwater work I have had many clients coming in to experience this genre for multiple reasons. For maternity it is the feeling of weightlessness during her session. For seniors in high school it is the chance to shoot something unique. For one particular client it was for the hope that not only could she have something to focus on besides her cancer, but also to make portraits with her young daughters that they would never forget.
For years, Julie Purinton had been explaining to her doctor that she did not feel quite right. She knew in her gut that something was wrong so she requested a physical. They found a nodule on her thyroid and ordered the biopsy after the ultrasound. While it was benign, they needed to check it out every six months. Like most women our age, it is explained to us that it is just circumstances that make us fatigued and worn out. You are getting older, you are a mom with young kids, you are not eating the right foods, or maybe it's just a virus are just some of the parroted explanations she heard. After having neck pain the doctors reordered another look at the thyroid. Purinton explained that awful feeling when she knew her intuitions were right: “I could tell by his face that something was definitely wrong.”
Two ultrasounds, two biopsies, and two more doctors later, she was diagnosed with metastatic papillary thyroid cancer and received this news right before Christmas 2016. By January 30, 2017 she was in the operating room with an entire thyroid removal, all lymph nodes, three tumors, and a lobe of the parathyroid. The last tumor wrapped itself around her vocal cords. In the middle of the night following the surgery, Purinton had major complications that almost took her life.
Something to Focus On
She had been following my underwater work for quite sometime and wanted to give herself something to look forward to instead of the thought of her surgery. While she knew the incision would start behind her left ear and down across her neck, she still wanted to have something positive to look forward to she told me. Her body healed better than expected but the scar still shows and is a reminder of how fast things can change your life. Shooting underwater also helps the client to forget about most things that weigh on their minds. It is replaced with the concentration of breath holds, having to relax for the fabric to float down, and most of all, to clear their minds of everything above on land taking in the scenery underwater.
Her session was not until June as she explained she needed to get stronger again to make the 10-hour drive in order to shoot. She explained that the shoot kept her spirits up with planning wardrobe for her and her two young daughters. Mermaid tails, flowly dresses, and the thought of making amazing memories with her girls.
We shot in the springs here in Florida which has a maintained temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The depth of the springs is what I was aiming for with this shoot and the ethereal feeling and backdrop. The daughters shot a few times but with the lower water temperature, they soon decided they would prefer to be on land. However I asked if she would stay for a few shots of just herself. The intent of the session was mother and daughter but I knew she needed a few of just herself for all that she had endured this past year.
The day of her shoot she was not focused on how her neck would look. She wanted the scar to show hoping it would help others learn from her experience. "I want people to trust their instincts when they feel like they don't feel right," she said. "Looking back, I had a laundry list of symptoms that suggested a thyroid problem." Since this experience she has had many people reaching out to her about guidance on the same situation. She said, "So many people want to hide their scars because they think they are ugly. I understand that feeling, but I'd like to challenge people to look at them a little differently. Scars are interesting. They mean that the wearer has lived and has a story to tell."
She feels that instead of feeling ashamed of the scars, she is hoping people to feel empowered by them. When I showed her the images from her session, she was thrilled that I did not edit out the scar. This picture represents the battle that she fought. When we as photographers take it upon ourselves to edit a part of that client out (without asking first), we are showing our own insecurities by feeling they would want this removed. We are a type of healer as photographers helping our clients embrace the love for every part of them whether underwater, or in the studio.