What started as a way to recover and escape from horrific abuse has, in the past ten years, blossomed into a career I could never have imagined.
I spent the first two years learning how to properly work a camera, how to really develop film professionally, and training "my eye". Where I was, at the time, hosted a sporting event almost every week - so from late 2007 to 2008 I focused my camera on soccer and tennis teams, the cheer squad and dance performances. It's where I learned to focus on movement and train myself to click for "the right shot". In my free time I'd wander out to focus on the nature around me. It taught me how to quiet my mind enough to focus on the task at hand. Skills, I'd later learn, that would be immensily helpful for the work I do now.
In my freshman year of college (2010), I decided that perhaps it was time to focus on people. Nature was beautiful - but too still, sports bored me and I wanted something more. Something that would give me more connection to those around me, and perhaps even, give me a purpose. I began the slow, yet official, transfer to portrait and fashion photography.
In the past eight years, with the explosion of social media, I have been able to reach out and work with some INCREDIBLE people. I never got to tell my story in the way I needed to in 2007, so I have worked really hard to be able to tell other people's stories; to capture their souls and passion and to really see them the way I'd hope someone would eventually see me.
Those featured here today are not nearly all the women I know, nor have photographed, but everyone I've worked with has a profound story to tell and goal to achieve. I've been incredibly honored to work with all of them and even more touched to be able to call some of them friends.
Dr. Carla Johnson
I "met" Dr. Carla Johnson through the art website known as DeviantArt, right when I started photography in 2010.
At the time, she was a well known figure model with photos in several galleries throughout the world. My favorite work with her, was that by AJ Kahn (an absolutely fabulous figure photographer) and we ended up co-moderating one of the art groups on that site. That lead to a strong working relationship and in 2012, I ventured out to Michigan to photograph her. This image, was from our very first shoot (updated in 2015) and still is one that I go to when I think of "Carla". Something about her look matches her great wisdom that comes from years of her years of teaching, writing and immersion within art.
She has been a longtime mentor, friend, and supporter of my career as a whole. I would not be be where I am today, photography wise, without her guidance and support. She was one of the first to give me a real shot with portraits, fashion and art nude model photography.
I was fortunate enough to meet Diane in the very end of 2013, and once again, thanks to social media, that connection was made possible. Over the past 5.5 years she has been my life-coach, a major support throughout my academic career, and the reason I came out of another (unfortunate) abusive situation - alive. She has gone above and beyond for me in so many ways, and I'm incredibly fortunate to have had her in my world for so long. The portraits that I got to take of Diane, were incredibly special because they captured who she is to a T. She is a beautiful soul and the living definition of "love and light".
To the outside world, you may recognize her name, as Diane has been an actress for most of her life - have starred both in big films and on the stage. Her attention to detail and the human emotion has been incredibly powerful, both onscreen and in person, as a coach. She understands the human connection in ways that many don't.
Probably best known for her role as Simone Bradley in the 2006 film, Loving Annabelle, she has also starred with the hit TV series, Medium, in the film, The Dogwalker which won Best First Feature at Cinequest, and in the film "America So Beautiful" which was [theatrically] released in Paris.
Today Diane does most of her acting with the theatre company, Torn Space Theatre - in Buffalo, New York, with which I have seen several performances. I'm forever grateful for her connection, for her support, and the incredible impact that she's had on my life.
In January of this year she was diagnosed with breast cancer and while recovering, still needs active treatment. It would mean the world to me if you could help support her in this fight. Thank you.
Dr. Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber
A brilliant contralto, with a well-known Professional Classical Singing career, and an unbelievably wonderful professor, Dr. Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber is an absolute life-force.
When I returned to the East Coast in the beginning of 2013, from a half-a-year stay in Los Angeles, I had finally decided what I wanted to get degrees in. I would return to Psychology, which is how I started school in 2010, but I also wanted to add something with music. I reached out to the vocal instructor on campus and shortly after, my second major of Integrative Arts - focus in Vocal Performance - was added to my academic schedule. Since 2013, Dr. Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber has helped train my voice in operatic, classical, and musical theatre styles, with our most recent focus in Jazz. (I'll be performing "My Funny Valentine" and "Fly Me To the Moon", as well as a musical theatre duet with her in May). I also took the opportunity and joined her Chamber Singer's Choir, Ivyside Pride.
She, herself though, is a living legend. Dr. Cutsforth-Huber, fondly known to her students as, Doc, is a Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia survivor. Having that illness has been something she's bravely fought through and has very worked hard to overcome. Throughout her battles and in rebuilding her voice and the very way her body moves and reacts to what's around her, she has managed to take her students to Vienna, Austria in 2013 for a Christmas performance of The Birth of Christ - at the St. Stephen's Cathedral; and twice to New York City, once to Avery Fisher Hall - Lincoln Center for Maurice Durufle's Requiem in 2014, and again in 2017 to Carnegie Hall for Mozart's Requiem - both with New York City Chamber Orchestra. And right in the thick of it all, a 2015 home-based performance of Carmina Burana. Every semester she seems to find a way to out-do herself, all while being a mother, a wife, a professor and keeping up with her world-travel based performances. She goes above and beyond for all her students and I've been beyond blessed to learn from her and meet with her weekly, for lessons, for the past 5 years. She is a treasure.
"Like many people who suffer from Chiari, it took many years for my condition to be diagnosed; in fact, by the time I was diagnosed, my life was in peril. My journey to reclaim my life has been full of twists and turns. I have endured two brain surgeries and several other surgeries on my spine. I have endured countless hours of physical therapy. I have had to rebuild my voice from square one. But despite all of the obstacles, I have won back my life, I have won back my voice, and the fact that I am on this earth doing what I was born to do is a testament to the fact that the power of the human spirit in all of us should never be underestimated." ~ Dr. Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber
Many of you might recognize the name Nina from her decades-long career in Adult Entertainment, which is fair, but to me she is so much more than that identity. She's a powerful woman whose wisdom and words have helped me find even more purpose in my work/career.
In the summer of 2015, someone sent me a photo of Nina, claiming that she looked just like one of the models I had previously worked with. While that part was true, it wasn't the case as I had I only ever heard of Nina maybe twice prior (I lived under a rock until high school 😂). I was, however, intrigued. There was something about her that I wanted to capture through a lens and I felt like she'd be someone interesting to know. So, when the opportunity presented itself via Twitter (thank you, again, social media), I took the risk and called her. That, in turn, lead to meeting her on the Gettysburg College Campus for a speech that she was giving there, two and half months later, and a full shoot for her birthday in March of 2016. (You can read the full story about that shoot here.)
Since then, I've seen and worked with her a few more times, each time more wonderful than the last. Her infinite wisdom and beautiful outlook on life has helped me re-define some of my portrait work - which you can really see take shape between 2016 and current work now. While I have always worked towards telling stories and capturing someone's very essence, the concept didn't totally click into my work, completely, until our 2016 shoot. Every shoot that I've been on, since, has been more magical and has lead to better images, better stories and beautiful friendships. Nina has been an incredible friend, a wonderful supporter of my career and has gone out of her way to put me in touch with other incredible people, who I'm also proud to call friends.
Nina, while probably best known for her career within Adult Entertainment, was also one of the first actresses to cross-over into mainstream film, having a role in Boogie Nights as "Little" Bill's wife, and was featured in Tupak's music video How Do U Want It? If you Google her now, you can also find the tremendous number of sex-positive interviews that she's done, including a recent-ish one with As/Is. [Link is SFW].
Honorable Judge, Rosemarie Aquilina
Hon. Rosemarie Aquilina is a one-of-a-kind powerful woman and a new person in my life. But in a very short time, she has already done so much.
Though I've had instances of abuse all throughout my teenage years and well into my early twenties, I was never really given the chance to be believed by someone "in power." Those who had been in power had either done nothing, or chose to do what they had too to "shut me up." I, for the longest time, didn't feel like I had a voice that could be heard. I still used it, I still tried, and especially in the past two years have really been fighting, vocally, for a change in how women are believed. When the god-awful Nassar case went global, and I saw someone, at the top of the justice system, listening, truly listening, to the stories of the survivors and encouraging them to speak, giving them space to be heard and to start healing, I realized that perhaps too, healing for me could be possible.
I found her on Twitter, followed her, and went to bed, thinking nothing more than "thank god, for this woman and what she's just done for women everywhere." I woke up half-way through the night (unusual for me), to see that she had followed me back. I damn near fell off my bed. I sent a message of thanks, first. Just thanking her for the goodness that she had just provided the world, how wonderful it was to see someone of her stature be able to speak so kindly to the survivors and the genuine support she seemed to have for all those in a similar situation. One message lead to another, which turned into a conversation, which in a short time, lead to one of the most touching photoshoots I've ever been on.
Meeting Rosemarie in person, was further validation that somehow things were going to be alright. She asked how I got started in photography, and as painful as it has been for me to accept, I told her the truth - my career began as a coping mechanism for rape. How I didn't break down in a total flood of tears, I will never know. But she listened to my story with patience and genuine kindness. And for once, in my decade long recovery, I felt truly seen and heard. Rosemarie has an absolute heart of gold and is just as beautiful on the inside as she is out. I took time to listen to her stories and get to know her a little bit, so that I could create portraits that reflected everything wonderful about her. In the few months that we've known of/known each other, she's been incredibly supportive and I cannot thank her enough for creating the time and the opportunity for me to work with her.
For those who don't know her yet, Rosemarie is a real-life Wonder Woman. She teaches as an adjunct professor at Thomas M. Cooley Law School, as well as at Michigan State University School of Law. She was Michigan's first female JAG Officer, she's a mother, a fierce advocate for women being heard, and an author! She's recently published her second novel, Triple Cross Killer, which is the start to a new Crime Series. Her talent as a story teller is remarkable, both in person and on paper. And if you're interested, you can pick up a copy of the book here.
Other Beautiful Women In My Life:
Molly - A definite best friend for life, she came at a time in abuse where I wasn't really "allowed to have friends". She helped keep me grounded, when I didn't think that was possible, and has encouraged almost every artist endeavor I've ever desired. She's been an absolute blessing of person, and I cannot wait to see her succeed in her own law career.
Marina - My best friend of 20 years - an absolutely beautiful soul who has your back no matter what. When we first met, in Brownie Scouts, I don't think either our parents truly believed the friendship would last this long, but here we are. Always supportive of my career, and I her's, here's to 60+ more years of friendship! *raises toast glass*
Samantha - My best friend of 8 years, and one of my first photography assistants, is a talented writer and gifted crafter. Watching her blossom into the beautiful person she is today, has been an honor and I'm forever thankful that we were placed in the same dorm hall. A fierce advocate for women's rights and freedom, she's everything you could ever want in a best friend. She's watched my portrait career from the start and has been the person to hold my life together whenever I'm away. Forever grateful.
Jess - Another best friend of 8 years, has truly been there through thick and thin and I'm so thankful for her friendship and her willingness to go on adventures with me. I'm so proud of the woman you've become.
Annette - My best friend of almost 6 years, is a super gifted pianist and talented singer (think Amy Winehouse emotive). She, along with most mentioned here has been a prominent help in my healing. Her kindness, support, and fierce friendship will forever be appreciated.
Ashley - Another definite best friend for life, is a fantastic actress with an incredible memory that can recite lines from damn near every movie she's ever seen. Her humor and support have also been prominent in my healing and I'm forever thankful to have friends like her, who have my back.
Dr. Sandra LaMorgese - A recent friend who has been an incredible life-force. She has brought me a lot of good, both to my career and in my personal life and I'm forever thankful for the career surprises that have been coming my way. To learn more about her journey, you can read her brand new, Women's Day Interview!
Caroline - (not pictured) - My best friend of 18 years, is a super talented screen-writer and forever friend. She met me shortly before my mother died and, we became fast friends. Through we've both traveled extensively, and have never remained in the same place for long, we've always found a way to communicate and see one another. From little girls who grew up playing "princess" to us both having careers in entertainment has been quite the change to watch, laugh and I'm sure - in the future - write about.
I'm so thankful for everyone's friendships, both new and old. I love learning and being friends with those who I am friends with, have taught me a lot of lessons over the years. You are all wonderful.
To all the other beautiful women that I have worked with, know, sing with, attend classes with, etc., I'm truly grateful for your support, your words, your laughter, your friendships, you guidance and your teachings. It is so, so, so, important that women support one another, because that's how change is made. You are all blessings.
Happy International Women's Day!
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