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Photographer Jen Squires talks about that viral Christa Couture photo shoot

Christa Couture photoPhoto by Jen Squires.

Yesterday here on Roots Music Canada we brought you an interview with Christa Couture, whose pregnancy photos, conceived to create visibility for pregnant women with disabilities, have become a worldwide viral sensation – with features everywhere from Yahoo to the Independent.

Today, we salute the photographer behind that shoot, Jen Squires.

You may not know Jen’s name, but if you’re a fan of roots music, you know her work – we’ve got some of it here on Roots Music Canada, including the photo of Georgian Bay from Thursday’s album premiere. She’s taken publicity photos for Sarah Jane Scouten, Jadea Kelly, Abigail Lapell, Devin Cuddy, Amanda Rheaume, and so many more. She also did a cool self-portrait series call Vitiligo, celebrating the skin condition that causes patchy losses of pigment.

Photographers seldom get much credit for their work, aside from that little “photo credit” line under the picture in the newspaper. We decided it was time to change all that and give Jen a feature of her own.

But first, allow me to introduce her in the format for which she is best-known.  This is a photo of Jen from Vitiligo.

Jen Squires self portrait.

Photo by Jen Squires.

And here’s Jen’s take on that photo shoot that’s become a global phenomenon.

1. How did the idea for this photo shoot come about?

I received an email from Christa Couture in the late summer of 2017 saying she wanted to book me for another photo shoot. She let me know this time it wasn’t for music photography. Christa and I first worked together in 2015 on her album cover for Long Time Leaving with an amazing team of women. Christa and I took photos that were incorporated into a collage created by artist Catherine Mellinger for the cover, which was designed by Joi Arcand.

In her email, Christa shared the beautiful news that she was pregnant and wanted to document her pregnancy with photos. She wasn’t looking for the standard maternity photography look. She was looking for portraits that she could share with an article that she was writing about disability and motherhood. Christa said she loved the way I captured my self portrait series Vitiligo.

Her maternity photos were to be of her, but also to be portraits of her body showcasing her pregnancy with her prosthesis on and also with it off. Christa had featured her lovely floral prosthesis in previous shoots but had never done a shoot without it. I was completely honoured to be asked to do this beautiful, brave, vulnerable and inspiring shoot with Christa. I, of course, said yes right away.

We planned a date for about a month later, when her pregnancy would be in full bloom. Christa secured a location to do the shoot on a sunny Sunday afternoon, which was kindly provided by the Native Women in the Arts in their Artscape Youngplace office. Christa enlisted make-up artist Kelty Lewis again (Kelty also worked with us on the Long Time Leaving shoot) and I enlisted the help of my partner Simeon Ross to assist us, and we were good to go!

When it came time to do the shoot though, it was just Christa and I alone in the office with two backdrops and beautiful light from two large windows. Birds were chirping outside, and laughter was coming from the park. We shot for about two hours and tried different outfits, as well as shots with and without her prosthesis. We watched the photos come up on my screen and we were both so happy. We had created portraits that documented her pregnancy, captured her character and beauty, and that would accompany Christa’s inspiring story, “I Couldn’t Find Any Disability Maternity Photos, So I Made My Own”.

2. How did you and Christa arrive at the final vision for the shoot? Were there aspects of the concept that were especially important to you?

It was Christa’s vision to create photos that were portraits of her body and her belly, which we did, but I think we also captured Christa’s personality, strength and beauty. She is so full of soul and inspiration. I didn’t realize how much we would capture of her until we started shooting. The photos jumped out at us. They were kind, beautiful and strong – just like her. It was most important to me to be respectful of how big of a moment this was for her and to create photos that Christa was going to be comfortable and happy with sharing. It is a very vulnerable thing to have your photo taken, and when someone is doing it with the purpose of sharing it with the world, as a photographer, you want to make sure you take those photos in the most respectful way.

3. Is this the first time you have seen photos from a shoot of yours go viral and be featured in major international publications?

I have had a few photographs of musicians that I have taken in major international publications before, and my Vitiligo series was shared a bit on Instagram, but this is the first time I have seen photos from a shoot go viral and SO VIRAL! I am thrilled Christa and her story are getting featured in so many publications all over the world (CBC, Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Yahoo, Independent etc.). People are really being inspired by her, her bravery, and her beauty. Christa is one of the strongest and most inspiring people I have ever met. It’s so great the world is getting to know her spirit.

4. What has this level of attention been like for you as the photographer?

The attention has been very positive. I have had some really nice messages and comments from people online. Christa and I have both had messages from people all over the world asking to share the photos. It feels amazing to be a part of such a wonderful story.

5. Who’s been the worst publication for giving you photo credits? Should we shame them? 🙂

I’ve been very lucky with that and am almost always credited 🙂

6. Has the attention given to these photos created any new opportunities for you as a photographer?

Yes! I have started getting messages about doing maternity photos, which I am very excited to try more of. I have only done a few maternity photo shoots so far: Christa’s and some for my friends and family.

7. What do you hope comes out of the incredible visibility these photos have received?

I hope that people see Christa’s strength and beauty and take a moment to recognize the beauty in themselves and others.

Here’s a gallery of Jen’s work:

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