This is Nushi Khan-Levy. Nushi's body is cancer free after two operations, and today she had the last course of the chemotherapy which will help keep the cancer away. Nushi was interviewed about surviving cancer earlier this week for the Graceful Death film. I was fortunate to be asked to take some portrait images and I wanted to share some of the pictures here with my refections and some learning points.
It was a pleasure and an honour to meet Nushi: she was full of energy and spirit and a wicked sense of humour (since she lost all her hair people keep telling her what a nice shaped head she has: her husband and daughter were a little taken aback when she suggested she might donate her head to an artist to study if she died).
A busy and successful actress, Nushi hasn't really liked looking at herself in the mirror since she lost her hair. She tried a wig but just couldn't get on with it. In addition the steroids she needs to take make her face rather rounder than it was. Not having eyelashes is a pain (literally) as your eyes get quite gritty without their protective curtain. But every day she puts on her make-up and faces the world, driven largely by a desire to show her daughters that nothing is too difficult to be managed: the secret is not to give up or give in.
In preparing for the session I had two main thoughts. I was very keen to take good pictures: this seemed too important to mess up. I decided that the key to a good portrait would be the interaction between me/the camera and the subject, and resolved to try to empathise with and really look at her and to tune into her energy levels and see where that led. My second thought before I got there was that I'd have liked to do some moody black and white images (maybe a cross between Richard Avedon and Sarah Moon) but that ambition didn't fit with who Nushi is. Her house is full of clean lines and light. She says that since the cancer lots of small worries have faded away and these bright, direct images seem to me to reflect that. My initial idea of rather fashion-led pictures seems a little insubstantial in comparison.
The light in this image is I think acceptable. Ideally I would have liked to have had the lighter side of her face and body further from the camera rather than nearer to it as here. Something to work on for future sessions.
I think the first picture in particular shows her extraordinary combination of strength and honesty and vulnerability.
This is the first time I have tried to take portraits as part of a larger session including filming and an interview. It was difficult sometimes to catch and hold her attention as so many other things were happening. I think that the key to a good still portrait is to be able to get your subject's attention and hold it in the image, and I think my learning point for future sessions is to work at finding ways to make the most of quiet moments and to find ways to make more of them, without getting in the way of the main event, which is the interview and filming. Overall I am pleased with the pictures I got: I would have liked to have more to choose from.
I thought I'd end the post with a picture showing her warmth and laughter.