Life Images program gives cancer patients free professional portraits

Photography instructor Jennifer Baker talking to the group of volunteers, consisting of WCC photography students, WCC staff and University of Michigan Hospital staff. The portrait session would not have been possible without them. All photos taken by Andrei Pop.

By Suni Jo Roberts
Deputy Editor

Through the disorienting news of a cancer diagnosis, the Life Images program gives patients a tangible moment in time in the form of a portrait taken by a WCC student.

Student Andrea Clark and Photography instructor Jennifer Baker working together to edit the pictures that were taken during the portrait session.

The Life Images program is a partnership between Michigan Medicine’s Cancer Center and the WCC photography program and consists of two separate components. One is a biannual portrait session at WCC, and the second is a WCC student intern who takes photos of patients at the Cancer Center in Ann Arbor over a period of months.

The most recent portrait session took place at WCC on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. This is the second time the portrait session has taken place on WCC’s campus as opposed to the Cancer Center, which with four photo bays, allows WCC to accommodate patients with larger families, and also comfortably detaches itself from a hospital setting.

Although patients of Michigan Medicine’s Cancer Center are connected with the Life Images program because of their diagnoses, that is in the periphery when a patient sits down for their portrait session.

“You get to come, you get to dress up, you get to be a part of something that isn’t even associated with your illness,” said Peter Carpenter, a music therapist at the Cancer Center who refers patients to the portrait session.

This October’s portrait session saw the help of eight WCC photography students and four faculty and staff members. The students who volunteer are able to gain real-life experience taking portraits of families as well as help to create a meaningful photograph a family will cherish for years to come.

Brooke Baughman, a WCC student studying photographic technology, volunteered to take photos at the portrait session for the first time this October.

“I think it went amazing,” said Baughman. “You can’t just snap a picture and say smile. There is the human connection part of it.”

Photography students Stephanie Prechter (left) assists Brooke Baughman (right) as she takes photos of cancer patients and their families.

For students it’s not just about snapping photos, “there is a whole other element on top of just taking pictures … you are doing something for somebody else that is meaningful,” added Baughman.

Joy Burton, a WCC photographic technology student, also volunteered to take portraits for the first time this October.

“I think it went really great,” said Burton. “I think it was great for the people that came and it was great for us as students to have that experience.”

Don Werthmann, a photography faculty member at WCC and coordinator of the event, explained that WCC has four different photo bays, with different lighting, so students are able to work between various settings.

“The elaborate number of things they are walking away with and the different types of photographs is really great for us to do but they are really satisfied with that aspect of it too,” said Werthmann.

Werthmann said families are able to take digital copies of their photos home when they leave the portrait session.

“Our motto about this is like capturing who they are, where they are, right now in this moment and making it an honor and a celebration of them and their family,” said Melina Hallenbeck-Kostecky, an art therapist at the Cancer Center, who is involved in the Life Images partnership. “It’s more celebrating life: celebrating their spirit, their personality, that love that they share between each other. That’s really what we try to capture.”

The Washtenaw Voice’s photo editor, Andrei Pop, has an ongoing involvement with this project.

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