Some shoots I can remember quite well but this Summer has been a bit unusual, in some ways devastating and in other ways uplifting. As such I have had a series of shoots with Amber and because of the events that unfolded I can’t quite recall specific details in order. Amber had pretty much taken a back seat to modelling and only really models for fun and creativity. She had taken on a full time job and spent most of her free time with family, however life took an unexpected turn in late Spring when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. From here on life changed dramatically for her, at first she couldn’t quite take it all in and it all seemed very surreal because she didn’t feel ill at all. She went for a series of tests and biopsies, the emotional trauma started to kick in about this time and she passed out during the first biopsies. When you feel perfectly fine and healthy its hard to believe that your life is under threat, but such was the case. The emotional rollercoaster is a ride no-one wants but you may have no choice but to hang on and hope you don’t fall off. After a few of attempts at biopsies the results came back positive for cancer, however there was no knowing how much was there and surgery was the only way to make sure, furthermore time was of the essence….or rather, time was running out. Suddenly life took on a whole new aspect, there was talk of removing lumps and cancerous material, also the possibility of losing her left breast.
It was at this point Amber asked if we could do a shoot on the beach, a kind of pre surgery shoot. The unspoken potential was that this would be the last time her body would be whole. So off we go, down to her favourite beach at Kinshaldy/Tentsmuir for a mixture of clothes and location nudes. Her spirits were high and we both had a lot of fun on the beach, whilst we talked a lot about her condition she still maintained that lust for life and a wonderment of the world.
So skip a few weeks later and Amber is in hospital minus her left breast, a medical balloon where her breast should be and a scar. The hope had been that some material would be removed and that would be the end of it, life isn’t always that simple though and the roll of the dice doesn’t always roll in your favour. Seemingly the cancer was pervasive and the entire breast had to be removed plus chemotherapy was needed to kill of the remaining disease. The rollercoaster ride didn’t seem to be stopping any time soon, the whole emotional drama was overwhelming I think and if it hadn’t been for her kids then I’m not sure she would have taken the chemo. Her physical recovery was good and she had nothing but praise for the hospital staff, plus she was added to the list for reconstruction surgery. There is no getting away from it though, she was mentally drained and emotionally fatigued, at this point you need friends and support the most. Strangely though it wasn’t forthcoming, lots of people shied away from her and support or even just human contact was missing, the loneliness was an unexpected blow to an already weary mind.
At this time I decided to get her in the studio, I’ll be honest here I kind of tricked her into it. I asked her to come along and help me with a new lighting setup…which was actually true but I could have done it without her. I just felt she needed to do something normal again, something familiar that she used to do before surgery. So I picked her up and we headed into the studio. I didn’t have any real ideas as such, I just knew that getting her in the studio would spark off her enthusiasm to be creative and I would just do whatever ideas she wanted. Practical therapy if you will. When we got there it was easy to see that Amber wanted to show the surgery but also wanted to be sensual and show that losing a breast does not make you any less of a woman. I think this is an extremely important point, while losing a breast is a big deal for a woman it does not mean they become any less beautiful or attractive, the essence of womanhood is still there. With that in mind we did a series of glamour-ish portrait type shots.
The studio shoot really seemed to perk Amber up a bit during a dark period of loneliness and mental turmoil. I suggested we do a studio shoot any time she liked, for her to be creative or outrageous in any way she cared for. By the time we returned to the studio again she had been through two rounds of chemo, it knocked her health and wellbeing out of kilter, as we all know its a very hard process for the body to cope with. I think losing her hair was another reality check about her condition, after a bit of a down period she ordered a new wig and organised another studio session. A rather bizarre one I have to say, when I picked her up at her house she was clutching a jiffy bag, it turns out she had been sent a box of silicon nipples. The hospital had sent her to get a reconstruction appointment and part of it was to measure and match the remaining breast. The result being an interim solution of a box of stick on nipples. In a weird way I can honestly say I have had a box of nipples in my hand….seriously, you couldn’t make it up!
So the studio session featured the stick on nipples, which I have to say fell off a few times but actually was quite successful. However the most important thing about them was…it made Amber feel good about herself, she was well chuffed with them. Obviously they were never meant to be in a photoshoot and quite a bit of post processing had to be done, however they were a successful and welcome addition. The studio theme was again about being sensual and even sometimes on the risque side, a no holds barred celebration of womanhood. This time we were being experimental and not every theme worked but we did have a good time working out what works and what doesn’t.
This brings me up to date shooting wise with Amber so far, she has just finished her third bout of chemo and is halfway through the chemo sessions, the hardest ones are the next three seemingly, then there’s more medication after that with perhaps radiation treatment. All in all though there is hope and the likely hood of a full recovery is good. It does make one pause though and reflect on life. I think had Amber not gone to see about her condition when she did I don’t think she’d have much of a future or even be here today. On a brighter note, the images produced from our shoots has made Amber more popular than ever and she has some shoots lined up with other photographers…..as she says….I’m not dead yet!