portrait photography

Making prostate cancer visible through portraits

Specifically male cancers – prostate and testicular – are still subject to the same kind of taboo that until recently hid the extent, and the human cost, of breast and cervical cancers in women. Most men shy away from discussion of illness and death, let alone incontinence and sexual dysfunction. But their silence reinforces the taboo.

Having lost a close friend to the disease more than 10 years ago, I jumped at the opportunity to shoot a series of portraits of men with advanced prostate cancer for an awareness-raising campaign. (The campaign is being mounted by the pharmaceutical company Astellas but has no direct commercial objective.) The idea is to show that, far from being passive victims of a shameful condition, cancer sufferers can be proud, passionate and fully engaged in life.

I’ve already completed three of a planned 12 shoots – two in England and one in France. All three guys were fantastic: open, generous and actively committed to the cause of bringing prostate cancer into the open. More shoots are planned in Italy, Germany, Spain and Belgium.

The aim is to capture one portrait in each session, together with one full-body shot of the subject with a person or an object, or in a place or engaged in an activity, that means a lot to him. My client is going to create a travelling exhibition which will be presented for the first time in November of this year, in Brussels.

Welcome to my photo studio in Ixelles

I have converted the loft room of our house in Ixelles into a small portrait studio. As far as possible, I use the natural light from two large, north-facing Velux windows. But I am also experimenting with more sophisticated LED and flash set-ups.

The studio has three ‘locations’: a 2.5 metre backdrop rail for fully-body portraiture, a 1.5 metre rail that gives me a bit more distance for seated and horizontal poses, and a plain white wall for headshots. I’ve also installed an excellent music system, and created a nice little waiting/changing area.

The first few sessions have gone extremely well, so this is a side of my business that I will be trying to build up during 2019. I love meeting and photographing people. Give me a call and let me welcome you to my studio!

Sharon How, pianist

Well, it’s a mysterious and wonderful calling to be a photographer, I find. You put yourself out there on Facebook and Instagram, you create a website, you do a little advertising with Google AdWords, and one day you receive a message from a young pianist asking for a one-hour studio session to produce a series of professional portraits. Of course, you say yes.

Sharon arrived straight from the hairdresser, fully made up and in the dress in which she was to give a concert (a Bach solo piece) later in the day. She refused coffee, tea and water in order not to mess up her lipstick. We talked for a while. She is Singaporean, studying in the US. She has beautiful hands and a lovely laugh. She showed me a photograph of her without the hairdo and the makeup.

Then we went downstairs to the little studio set-up I had created in our basement – a simple white drop, plenty of natural light and a couple of LED lamps, and on-camera fill flash. What an incredibly intense and intimate hour – for the photographer, trying to ‘see’ a stranger, and for the subject, trying to reveal herself to a stranger.

But I think we made it. I am proud of the results, and Sharon wrote me a lovely message to thank me for them: “I just managed to look through Sharon_web-best on my phone and they turn out really amazing, so much to the ideal portraits that I have always wanted to have for myself. In addition, I am amazed by the black and white photos (it is incredible some look nicer in black and white), it changed my whole perspective of the artistic potential of black and white art! The black and white photos are so artistic and incredible! I really really love them!”

The photos on this page are outtakes. They are not the ‘professional’ shots, but rather the ones that show Sharon’s playful side. She’s a lovely person, and I hope that we can stay in touch. One day, I’d like to shoot her without makeup and with her own short hair.