Rhea Lewis, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, knows breast cancer. Both her mother and aunt are survivors. As a boudoir photographer, Lewis also knows the positive impact such a session can have on a woman’s self-esteem. That’s why, after experiencing her own breast cancer scare, Lewis decided to donate boudoir sessions to breast cancer survivors. “I had no idea that this would be therapy for them until I started doing more and more of them and saw how helpful it was,” she says.
Why boudoir: Battling breast cancer takes a toll on the body and saps self-confidence. “Many of the women are at a place where they don’t know where to go as a woman because part of how they identify as a woman has been altered for life,” says Lewis. “Femininity gets put on a shelf when you’re dealing with survival. When we do a session I can show them that the world still sees you as the beautiful women that you were before.”
Finding subjects: Lewis connects with subjects via a nomination process. Friends and family of survivors and survivors themselves are encouraged to complete a nomination questionnaire found on Lewis’ website.
The therapy begins: Since the session is intended to heal, it’s as much about the experience as it is about the images. During a pre-session consultation, Lewis speaks with the subject about their breast cancer journey and then delves into a custom fitting, using the collection of lingerie and gowns she carries in her studio. The complimentary session takes places within two weeks of the consultation and is a three- to four-hour affair, with professional hair and makeup, wardrobe changes, and champagne. While the subject takes a meal break, Lewis preps the photos for a post-session reveal. She provides two portraits at no cost, and the subjects often purchase more.
“They come in so nervous and closed, and by the end of the shoot they have blossomed into a beautiful butterfly.”
Amanda Arnold is associate editor of Professional Photographer.