||Transitioned – a
photographers vision |
the work of Winifred Whitfield
"We must all grab onto ourselves with such fierceness, no matter what this
world dishes up. I don’t even know how to describe what this portrait means
to me but it has been significant to my healing. I know that I am still a
beautiful, sensual and strong woman."
As photographers, we have the privilege of documenting personal history.
Once in a while, we have the opportunity to create an image that has far
greater meaning and impact than usual on the lives of our clients. I had
such an opportunity recently, and I took it.
During a portrait shoot with an actor, Kimberly King, she told me about her
friend Lynnda Ferguson. An accomplished New York stage and television actor
who had recently come to Seattle to be treated for a very aggressive form of
breast cancer, Lynnda wanted a portrait created, portraying herself as
Cleopatra. However, because she had to commence chemotherapy right away, a
portrait session would be some time away.
The following day, during my twice-weekly yoga class, I had an experience
unlike any I’d ever had before. I received a communication about Lynnda. It
was not telling me that she was going to die, but that an important portrait
needed to be created for her to hold onto now. Not a Cleopatra portrait, it
would reflect who she really was.
As I sat in class, the details of her portrait unfolded. It came to me
effortlessly. I saw her expression, the pose of her body, and some elements
of the background. I had never met nor seen this person yet I knew what this
portrait had to look like and communicate. She would be poised, strong, and
confident – a warrior, determined to defeat the cancer. It would serve as
her constant reminder to hold steadfast and remain confident as she
undertook the next stage of her lifesaving, albeit disfiguring, treatment.
Already I could feel the power of the image I would create. Lynnda would
have a radical mastectomy as soon as the doctors felt they had contained the
spread of this disease. My vision of Lynnda preoccupied me throughout my
class. I have never been so distracted before. It included a completely bald
head with her draped in black sheers, a hint of her breast showing, looking
strong, confident, and beautiful.
When I returned home, I composed an email to Kimberly asking that she make
this shoot happen. 'It will be our gift to her,' I wrote. She was
understandably hesitant, saying that she did not know how her friend would
react—Lynnda might be understandably upset or depressed, but said she would
ask. 'Kimberly, this is not about asking Lynnda to come,' I said. 'I need
for you to make this happen.'
The following evening I received a call from Kimberly. Lynnda wanted her
portrait created. I was thrilled. 'Give me an hour,' I requested. I didn’t
know exactly what to expect, but I needed to be ready. I began by preparing
water for tea.
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