I first met Marie-Claude over four years ago, the same weekend I came to Quebec to visit Mathieu for the first time. She was dating a friend of his, and the four of us had met out for dinner at a bring your own wine restaurant in Quebec City. My french was pretty much non-existent then, and Marie was a bit shy in English, but with the guys as our translators and the wine as our confidence, we got along just perfectly. The next time I saw Marie, she told us that she was pregnant. Ironically, about a month or so later, I found out that I was pregnant as well. We talked over facebook quite a bit about our pregnancies, keeping track of one another, making little comparisons here and there, being that it was the first time the both of us were going through this. Mathieu and I didn't want to know the sex of our baby, but Marie-Claude had discovered that they were having a boy. They named him Charles-Antoine. She was beyond excited, she was a beautiful, proud mommy.
I was still living in Brooklyn when we got the devastating news. After some complications with her pregnancy, at about 23 weeks gestation, baby Charles-Antoine was born, and passed away. I was in shock. My heart ached for them. It was so unfair.
The next time I saw Marie-Claude, I was about 7 1/2 months pregnant. I was nervous to see her, afraid that her seeing me would bring on so many unimaginable emotions for her. I remember thinking that I wouldn't have been strong enough to do it. But she was. And I admired her for it.
When Marie-Claude messaged me to ask for me to photograph her, I was so honored. She told me that she wanted some photos to commemorate a new beginning for herself. I was nervous.. I wanted so badly to be able to give her these images to help to re-enforce that strength that she has within her, that I ever-so clearly saw in her, and for her to recall the beauty that not only exists on the outside, but inside of her as well.
She emailed me after she first looked through all of her images. Her message filled me with so much joy, tears welled up in my eyes.
"Honnêtement je viens de regarder les photos et j'ai les larmes aux yeux ! Ton travail est INCROYABLE et tu as su capter toute ma force et ma vulnérabilité ! J'ai l'impression de me "voir" pour la première fois comme les personnes qui tiennent à moi me voient !
Le petit mot que tu m'as écrit m'a ému. Tu es une fille, une femme et une mère qui a un talent artistique hors du commun !
Ta mission est accomplie puisque je vais regarder ces photos dans 10-20-30 ans avec une émotion différente chaque fois, mais toujours avec le sentiment d'avoir immortalisé mes 30 ans de la meilleur façon que l'on puisse le faire !
Merci pour ce moment, merci a toi et ta famille de faire partie de ma vie et n'oublie jamais, toi aussi, à quel point tu es belle et extraordinaire !"
"Honestly, I just looked through all of the photos and I have tears in my eyes! Your work is INCREDIBLE and you have captured all of my strength and my vulnerability. I feel like I am "seeing" myself for the first time in the way that others who find me attractive see me!
The little note that you wrote to me moved me as well. You are a girl, a woman, and a mother who has an artistic talent that you don't see often.
Mission accomplished. I will look at these photos in 10-20-30 years with a different emotion each time, but always with the feeling of having lived my 30 years in the best way I could.
Thank you for this moment, thank you to you and your family for being a part of my life, and don't ever forgot that you too are beautiful and extraordinary."
This is why I want to do this. This is what I hope that my images can do for people. These are the memories that we will have for years and years and years to come. And perhaps, some day, when Marie is not feeling at her strongest, she can look at these images and be reminded of the incredible woman that she is.
I have worked in the world of hair and beauty for 11, almost 12 years now. I have had countless women sit in my chair and tell me what they like or more specifically, don't like, about their hair. And sometimes their faces. And bodies. I once, many years ago when I first started on the floor as a stylist, had a woman sit in my chair and tell me how she wanted a change. This was a woman I had never met before, and she had never been into the salon before this either. She had a really hard time telling me exactly what it was she wanted though, and was seeming very unsure to me. My instincts told me that she wouldn't have been happy with anything I were to do and this made me very uncomfortable with the idea of actually cutting her hair. So, I told her that I thought that until she was a little more certain with what she wanted, I would perhaps just help her style her hair differently. She wore her hair curly normally and thought, well, I will show her how to do a blow-out and maybe that will give her the change she was looking for without a major commitment. Well, things didn't go according to plan. As I finished drying her hair, I saw tears begin to fall down her cheeks. Was she really this upset about her hair being blown out straight? Should I wash it and start over?? Did this actually have anything to do with her hair at all??? (I don't think so). I had no idea what to do. I mean, I had studied cosmetology, not psychology, right?? Well, the answer to that question is yes, and no. The thing is, there is a psychology to cosmetology. We as women, have been taught to believe that what is beautiful externally creates beauty internally. THIS IS WRONG MY FRIENDS. I can't stress it enough. There is without a doubt a direct connection between internal and external beauty, but it works the opposite way. When we feel good internally, we shine externally. When we are emotionally fulfilled and balanced, we glow and our beauty is contagious and unavoidable. No hair color, eyeliner, mascara, concealer or bronzer can give you this kind of beauty. Don't get me wrong, a little concealer over a pimple or a tiny bit of bronzer on a gloomy, rainy, early spring morning will help give that little extra pep on your step, but only if you are doing the work on the inside as well.
I watched this video this morning that is part of the Dove Real Beauty Ad Campaign which highlights a forensic artist who draws women in two anonymous sittings, once by the description of the woman herself, and once by someone else's description of that same woman. The differences in the images are astonishing and emotion evoking. I for one, as a woman who works in a fairly superficial business, who has battled with my own image issues over the years, and who has two beautiful baby girls, was very affected by this video. It hit me hard, like a brick wall. I knew what it meant to me, what it was asking me to do. Suddenly, so much stuff just made sense.
I recently photographed a beautiful friend of mine in a very honest and vulnerable manner. This friend of mine is a strong woman. She is a single mother, who works full-time. She is an education and language enthusiast. She loves to read, and watch movies, and comedy shows. She loves hanging out with friends, and painting her nails with her daughter, and drinking red wine and eating decadent desserts. She imagines what it might be to find love again, and yet knows herself all too well to just settle for anything less than she deserves. She is happy. And sometimes sad. And sometimes tired. But always growing and always real.
I'm not drawn to overdone boudoir images. It's too unrealistic to me. I want to see the realness behind the woman in the photograph. My friend was actually telling me how exhausted she was when she showed up at my house to do this shoot that afternoon. She had been out with some friends the night before, was fighting off a cold, and had worked all day long.. and I was like, perfect! We had no time before Mathieu arrived home from school with the girls to touch up makeup or hair, but I wanted it that way. I wanted to capture all of that in this photo shoot. I wanted to show what makes a woman, all of the things we balance, all of the challenges we endure, all of the responsibility we take on and how it is ALL of these things that make us beautiful. The struggles and the triumphs. The tears and the laughter. The lessons that we learn. The strength that we all have within... These are the things that make us beautiful. These are the things that we need to nurture. These are the things I want to be able to capture in my photography. The true essence of what it is to be a beautiful woman.
I think back to that woman in my stylist chair many years ago, and I wonder if and hope that she figured out what it was that she needed to get herself out of that sad place she was in that day. That experience changed my perspective of beauty. It taught me how much impact our appearances can have on us, and how much our emotional well-being impacts our appearance. It really instilled in me that real beauty comes from the spirit within. The next time you look in the mirror and don't like what you see, before jumping directly to the cosmetics bag, stop and really ask yourself: WHAT IS IT THAT I NEED RIGHT NOW?
a day off? a vacation? a new job? a run? a hot bubble bath? a warm sunny day outside with my kids??
And then go get it.. in whatever way you have to, GET IT. You deserve it. You are beautiful. Inside, and out. xo
all photography by Jennifer Marcuson