Wow. SO many wonderful, wonderful experiences. You know, just to clarify, leaving the fashion industry didn’t mean that I’d left the beauty industry - this will always be about beauty. Early days, every day something fantastic amazing and extraordinary happens. When you’re photographing a person, and they are glowing, bursting with energy and joy, seeing themselves in this reflection, it’s wonderful to look over their shoulder and see their partner, or best friend, or partner, or child, to see them glowing even more - because they’re seeing them how THEY see them. And that’s SO important. The first images we created, starting with Christine and the albinism community, was a cover story for LIFE magazine, called “Redefining Beauty.” So I was at a conference for kids with albinism, this was early days, in the UK, and there was a young lady who was 14 years old and didn’t want to be photographed, and her name was Christina. And her friends at the conference, even teachers, had made fun of her at school. And every time I was photographing somebody, Christina would be walking down the hall, watching… she SO wanted to be a part of it! And I begged her to do a photoshoot, and at the end of it, she said to me, “FINALLY I can be proud of my difference. I realize, though, that the hatred and abuse I experience every day will never disappear. But what has disappeared was the hatred I felt for myself.” And I NEVER looked back. I stopped all my commercial work that day, and just kept looking forward. And there are so many stories like that.
I received a lot of awards for the LIFE magazine piece. And one of the greatest honors I received was the Art of Reporting award, by the Genetic Alliance. They are a coalition of all the genetic support groups worldwide. It was a great honor, I was thrilled, and at the ceremony, the president at the time said “I’m looking at all these beautiful photographs of albinism, and I’m seeing a universal message here, that there is a beauty here. Would you want to photograph some of these other genetic conditions, to show the world how beautiful they are?” And I thought “What a great idea!” She said “Our next conference is going to be for kids living with a Chromosome-18 anomaly. Could you come to that conference?” And I said “GREAT!” But I’d never even heard the words “chromosome” and “anomaly” in the same sentence before! I didn’t want to look ignorant, I went back to the medical textbooks reluctantly, and I looked up “Chromosome 18 anomalies,” and I found images of stillborns, images of kids in doctors offices, kids with trachs, feeding tubes and mobility issues, and I thought comparatively albinism is so easy! These were images of sadness, of sickness, and I’m thinking “I’m committed” and I went. I walked into the auditorium with these images burned in my head, and I was instantly surrounded by kids screaming with laughter. There were kids with trachs, feeding tubes, mobility issues, but they were smiling and laughing. And that changed everything. It became the most beautiful, extraordinary - finding beauty in diversity. And that’s exactly what we did. We’ve been collaborating with advocacy groups worldwide, looking at the beauty of diversity. We just did a huge program with NYU-Langone and their Transgender community, telling the same stories of these incredible people, giving them a spotlight, a platform, letting them know they are accepted, and that all differences need to be embraced and celebrated. The idea - this is the bottom line - to throw a party. And the only way it’s going to be a great party is if EVERYBODY is invited and welcomed.