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!

Photographs for a corporate website

I am working with Brussels-based communication agency ESN to create images for its new website, which should be online by the end of 2018. It’s a work in progress — I probably have another day of shooting and editing still to do. But it’s already been a great learning experience and I wanted to record my impressions while they were still fresh.

The brief was to shoot three sets of images to give the website a real flavour of the agency’s human side — full portraits of key people and group shots, as well as simple headshots of the whole team of 50. We decided to shoot most of the portraits and groups at a handful of well-known locations in central Brussels.

For the group shots, we set up loose scenarios in which the subjects discussed an actual project. I found that if I could get them talking about something that really interested them we could avoid the kind of acting that always looks exaggerated and false in the photos.

I planned to crop these group images to the ‘cinematic’ 16:9 aspect ratio, since they will probably be used for page headers, so I tried to shoot for this format. But it still isn’t clear whether the agency is going to use them in colour or in black and white. In the end, I have delivered both versions of each image. Which do you think works best?

I’m doing the headshots in an empty office with simple LED lighting to balance natural light from the window. It’s a fascinating challenge to try and capture each individual’s personality in just a few minutes. As usual, a number tell me that they are not photogenic or don’t like having their picture taken, but I’ve gently insisted on making at least 20 or 30 images of everyone, and so far I think we have succeeded in avoiding the classic photobooth look. Some subjects gave me a little longer and were willing to play in front of the camera.