Black Heel Portraits (Edited by Julie Oswin Editor of Creative Light Magazine)
Black Heel Portraits has been a relatively new adventure. I started with Fiona Millington Photography in 2013, and I don’t mind admitting I was rubbish. I shot on auto and had no idea how to use my lights but still took bookings. I thought it would just be OK. I muddled through and eventually became competent, moved premises to where I am now – the fantastic Biscuit Studio in Coalville and started spending more time investing in training and learning. I’ve always photographed children and families and fell in love with the connection between the family. I dabbled in newborns but soon realised it wasn’t for me and then I photographed some maternity, which I loved!
In the summer of 2017, I was on holiday in France and trying to be more present in my photographs and reminding myself that my kids love me for who I am. They aren’t bothered by the size of my arms, my double chin, my muffin top or anything else I don’t like about myself. They love me because I am me, their mum. My husband is in love with me, and so I realised I needed to start loving myself. I posted on Fiona Millington Photography posting a similar post asking women to be more present in their photos and demonstrating by showing myself in more pictures. I am a large size 22 lady, and I talk the talk of making other women feel confident but rarely feel it myself. It was a huge thing. The post generated lots of activity, and I had women from all over the country talking to me about their worries and concerns but most importantly showing me they were present in their photos.
At the end of 2017, I was beginning to wonder where my photography was heading. I still enjoyed it, but I didn’t LOVE everything I was doing and realised, that while working full time, something needed to change. I needed to spend time photographing what I loved, which when I sat down and considered it carefully… what I wanted to do was make women feel amazing about themselves. I wanted women to see themselves as beautiful. I wanted women to look at the things we all see and not the perceived faults they see in themselves. I wanted to make women feel beautiful for themselves! Black Heel Portraits was born!
After speaking to a couple of friends who were models, they mentioned that they needed some boudoir style photographs doing for jobs. I jumped at the chance, and slowly it grew. I set my page up and gave it a real push – to be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect any interest I wasn’t sure if in my location it would sell. But to be totally honest I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Over the next few months, nearly every weekend was booked out with a Black Heel shoots.
I quickly realised that I needed to find a makeup artist so that the ladies would feel at their best. Chloe Maddin from Chloe Simone MUA came highly recommended. So we setup a shoot to see if we could work together. Chloe and I hit it off right away, and soon I was making 3-way bookings between myself, my incredible MUA (now friend) and my client. I knew Chloe was going to be part of the package as she was so natural with the clients and I needed to make my ladies feel empowered and strong.
Chloe worked on a couple of shoots with me, and from there she decided to book for her own. Chloe said ‘
I chose to shoot with Fi because the boudoir photography side has always intrigued me. I’ve always wanted to look at a photo of myself and feel sexy. At a time that my confidence had been shoved to an all-time low, we had the shoot. The same day Fi provided me with a viewing after working tirelessly to get them ready. I ended the session with tears in my eyes, but a fire inside that made me feel bloody invincible. It gave me a huge boost, and the opportunity to throw up the v at someone who had made me feel a bit pants! Thanks, Fi!’
I have photographed ladies in their 60s, 50s, 40s, 30s and 20s; brides to be, married ladies and single ladies. I have photographed size 8’s, size 16’s and size 24’s and everything in between! One thing I didn’t realised before was that EVERY SINGLE LADY was self-conscious, worried about themselves, disliked themselves in some way. Now that broke my heart. I made it my mission to make people leaving the experience of being photographed feeling sexy and fierce.
I have a twin sister, and her photo-shoot was the one I was most worried about. I knew Jacqui lacked confidence, in fact, I rarely get her in front of the camera. When she wanted to do a photo-shoot with me, it had to be perfect. Another worrying aspect, for me, was that she would send me pictures of what she didn’t want to look like – frankly, the images were awful and not my style, but it ramped up my anxiety. Then she came to my house to speak about the shoot and broke down whilst telling me “I just want to feel pretty and beautiful”. The night before the shoot I barely slept. Chloe came to do her makeup, and Jacqui’s colleagues came to do her hair. By the time we had primped and preened she looked even more beautiful than usual. I encouraged Jacqui’s friends to stay for the shoot, something I encourage for really nervous clients. After a nervous start, we laughed, giggled and cried. At the beginning of the shoot Jacqui was mostly covered and, like with many of my clients, she was completely naked by the end! Of the shoot she said… “Fi, you have helped me to see myself differently, that just because I’m overweight, I still deserve to feel good about myself, the boost I had to my self-confidence was massive. I felt I looked terrific in the pictures and saw myself as others do”.
One evening Chloe sent me a message. What if we got a group of women together and photographed them all together? So it began. We put out some feelers that evening, set up a Facebook group and started planning the shoot.
Chloe’s thoughts behind the shoot was to “give women a massive boost in confidence, I love to make women see their true worth and to fall in love with themselves. Fi is an incredible lady that also works with the same goal. When I approached Fi with the idea I knew instantly that she was the woman for the job. Not only because her talent is endless in capturing women in their best light but because I knew the meaning behind the shoot would speak volumes to her too. The result was powerful and I know it wouldn’t have been with anybody else”.
We thought carefully about locations and finally chose the beautiful venue of Breedon Hall. We asked for volunteers, we opened up the day to anyone who wanted to be part of the shoot could be and we would not turn anyone away! If they wanted to take part, they were in! All sorts of ladies volunteered and inspired me with their strength and courage. One of the ladies was only a month post-mastectomy, one lady had Crohn’s, one lady had a disability, some ladies were comfortable in their skin, and some weren’t. The only thing the ladies all had in common was the want to take part in the shoot!
I barely slept the night before! I felt sick. So I brought cakes and biscuits and arrived at Breedon Hall. We decided to set-up the shoot in the lounge, and the ladies used the dining room as a changing area. Everyone was very nervous of each other to begin with and very worried about getting undressed with each other. I said to them that by the end of the day they wouldn’t even be thinking about it and they would be running up and down the stairs in just their underwear. No one believed me!
Chloe got started on the makeup, and we all got chatting. As each lady had their make up finished, I took them upstairs and photographed them individually. This gave them confidence in front of the camera and I was able to build a rapport. Apparently, I can be quite cheeky once I’m behind the camera but suffer from nerves and shyness without it. Once all the individual photographs were taken my Black Heel Portrait ladies started to relax. Next came the group shoots – I photographed them all firstly wearing white lingerie, the white lingerie and blue jeans, then black or dark lingerie and finally anything of colour. Once the white lingerie shoot was over, you could tell the ladies were getting into it as they decided to use the front steps and weren’t even phased when a groundsman was working at the front of the building! AND low and behold the ladies were running around in their lingerie without worrying about covering up!
The whole experience lasted for approximately 4 hours but will stay with me for many years. It was by far the best experience of my life and has reaffirmed for myself the importance of body confidence and building women up rather than tearing them down. I’ve had a lot of messages from my Black Heel Portrait ladies, mainly when I asked them why they wanted to do the shoot.
Here is what they had to say...
“At the end of last year at 30 years old I was diagnosed with the BRCA2 Breast Cancer Gene Mutation passed from my Mum who sadly lost her battle in 2010.. I struggled with the thought of my body changing again so dramatically but the reality of breast cancer remained so for me a double mastectomy was inevitable.. I made the hardest decision of my life so far as a young woman to have my healthy breasts removed. This was only 4 weeks prior to the shoot.. I messaged Fi to book my friend onto the shoot and explained I would love to do it too but would only be a couple of weeks be post surgery and wasn’t sure if I was the look she was going for to get this reply “YES YES YES YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY THE REASON WE ARE DOING THIS” so I came along with my two beautiful friends and it was the most inspirational experience.. such an incredible group of strong, worthy, beautiful women who came together for the same reason encouraging and supporting each other it was truly uplifting and I’m so proud to of been part of it...” Thank you, Stacey xxx
“I chose to do the shoot because for years I have struggled with my weight as I have Crohn’s disease and I have also had major surgery on my tummy having part of my bowel removed. And I have had a child so never been at a point where I have been happy with myself until recently and I know how hard it is to get to a point where you’re happy. And wanted to help show people that no matter what scars you have or shape you are you are beautiful....”. Marie