A note from Sarah: “Do you photograph non-pregnant women?” That’s the first question Sumaira asked me when she called. While my studio specializes in maternity, newborns, children and families, I have a deep passion for photographing all people, of all ages. I love portraiture because it has the power to transform the way we see ourselves. It has the power to document a specific moment in our forever changing lives and appearances. It has the power to bring forth emotions we once felt. Pictures become a part of our history, and a part of our story. And, I knew after my first conversation with Sumaira that I wanted to capture a piece of hers. Here are her words…
“I used to be one of the most confident individuals I’ve ever come across. I’d have professional, glamorous photos taken of me more often than the average person. I mean, it sort of comes with the territory of an aspiring actress, right?
For the uninitiated, I spent a major chunk of my life in front of the camera. Whether it was for acting, singing, dancing, or modeling, I’ve always maintained that my most successful relationship has been with the camera; it just gets me I suppose.
From a very young age, I engaged in theater acting and worked my way up to starring in Bollywood music videos, commercials, a documentary, performed voice over work, and was the female lead in an independent film. I planned to move to LA at the end of 2014 where I’d begin my pursuit of becoming the 1st Bangladeshi Oscar-winning A-lister.
Just two weeks after the decision to relocate, I got the wind knocked out of me with the onset of my illness, Neuromyelitis optica (NMO). Without a choice in the matter, I had to sacrifice chasing my dreams for dealing with the most unforeseeable circumstances. Overnight, I went from being the naive diva I was, to a young, blind, terrified and vulnerable, debilitated patient with a rare autoimmune disease and no cure in sight.
Needless to say, my body has been through A LOT and during all of this, the last thing I felt was beautiful. Let’s fast forward to 2017. While, I’m still very much dealing with my disease, I have come a really long way. Nothing excites me more than seeing the jaw-dropping reactions most people have after I tell them about what I have and what I’ve been through. It’s truly a very rewarding feeling. They always say, “you’d never know!” With the help of my medical team, new treatments, diet changes, psychologists, meditation, and light exercise, I look “normal” again albeit, a little different and a bit older with a few crows feet wrinkles. But truthfully, the most significant catalyst to getting to where I am now is this vehement refusal to let my diagnosis dictate every aspect of my life. The day I finally realized that I was more than my disease was the day I started living again.
This is what prompted me to finally muster up the courage to step in front of the camera after a long hiatus, and introduce the revived, stronger me to the world the way I know best. I won’t lie – I was anxiety-ridden until the photo reveal. I’ve become admittedly self-conscious and was paranoid about how I’d look. However, after seeing the finished product by the uber-talented Sarah, I regained my confidence and was so proud of myself. We accomplished exactly what I had intended: my disease does NOT define me nor should it define you. I believe the beauty that translated in these photos is a result of overcoming struggles and believing in myself, my strength, and my power. If I can do this, so can others. Through these new photos, I hope others are motivated to see themselves as more than their diagnoses too.
I live with an invisible disease with a mind of its own. I can relapse at any given moment causing severe, and sometimes, permanent damage. While I pray that I never revert back to how things were during my “bad days,” in the event that I do, I must always remind myself that no matter what I physically look like,
“Beauty is only skin deep. External attractiveness has no relation to goodness or essential quality.”
– Sir Thomas Overbury
Thank you Sarah for holding my hand throughout this emotional return in front of the lens. I am forever grateful to you.”
This session was photographed at the beautiful Warehouse XI in Somerville.