Last year Nigel Swinn photographed ten Sweet Louise members in honour of the Sweet Louise tenth anniversary. Loving the project and the people he met, Nigel came on board this year to photograph ten more of our members. This year Nigel set out to capture their strength and resilience through his lens. Nigel travelled to Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North and Christchurch and photographed members with their “rock”.
This “rock” was anyone each member felt supported them, kept them going, made them feel safe or simply, was there with a smile and hug on those tough days. A big thank you to our members – Pauline, Susan, Kelly, Tina, Mary-Margaret, Harriet, Jody, Marjorie, Sonya and Nicola – and their families for taking part in the project. Extending our gratitude, we are so thankful for Nigel and his camera. Nigel has done an amazing job of capturing not only the strength and resilience of our members, but their beauty and vulnerability all in one shot.
Sonya and the boys
Sonya lives in Christchurch with her two sons, a couple of small enthusiastic dogs and a host of seaside birds that she feeds every day. She’s a model and an actress so taking her photograph was a breeze. She can serve up a beaming natural smile at the drop of a hat and you’d swear life with her boys and the dogs is perfect.
But in one ﬂeeting moment as the boys climbed all over her, the smiles fell away as she talked about their future. It was like she needed recharging with hugs to face the day ahead..
Harriet and Grant
In this picture Harriet nestles behind her husband Grant on their large touring bike, clinging tightly with her eyes closed, thinking of all the road trips they took together through New Zealand.She wasn’t well when these shots were taken, and like their road
trips together, she was spending a lot of time sheltering behind Grant because the road ahead looked tough.
A lot of our conversation was about the pleasures of those trips, traveling with friends, seeing the country and traveling rough. But she also hoped that with his help they’d be able to do one more Brass Monkeys Rally together.
Tina, Paige and Abbey
Ask any mum what life must be like living with advanced breast cancer and raising small kids at the same time and they usually say they’ve no time for the cancer bit. They live in the storm of child-rearing with little time for reﬂection on themselves and their condition. In Palmerston North, Tina’s no exception. In fact, in the course of an afternoon I felt like I was in a category ﬁve storm that she was riding out as best she could. But storms have an eye. And when the two girls were moved on to allow me to photograph Tina on her own, an eerie calm descended that Tina seemed ill at ease with.
Mary-Margaret and her choir
In a beautiful Catholic Church in Lower Hutt, twice a week, you’ll ﬁnd Mary-Margaret singing in a choir; practicing mid week and the real thing every Sunday. Like most Sweet Louise members, Mary-Margaret receives powerful support from family, friends and the folks at Sweet Louise. But she has a special place in her heart for the time she spends with her choir friends. They’re like ‘central casting’ for a caring supportive New Zealand community. Varied in age, means and cultures – the sort of diversity we hope for in this country. And there, in the center, Mary-Margaret, from America – ﬁnding the harmony she needs for her journey.
Susan and Nadine
Susan has been living with breast cancer for ten years now. Her journey began as many do. The chaos of treatment (including 12 months on chemo) and an ever-present level of fear in her family. But long ago Susan decided she was only going to develop a way forward by growing a stronger outer layer ‘for protection’. From the ongoing treatment and the stress of every set of results, to being honest and upfront with her kids and just carrying on with life at home, Susan knew her internal and external ﬁtness had to be a priority. So now Nadine her yoga instructor is an essential and almost daily ingredient in how she lives for the future.
Kelly and Vernon
We may not admit it, but we’d all like a Mary Poppins in our life. In Auckland, Kelly’s Rosie’s oncologist, Vernon Harvey, would be horriﬁed to be likened to the Disney character that can make people levitate by making them laugh, but well… he does. Kelly is relatively early in a life living with advanced breast cancer. Talking about it can be hard and – to her embarrassment – tears come easily. But then she described her patient/ doctor relationship with Vernon and how his blend of expertise and fun lifts her in mind as well as body. These photos were taken in the course of a regular catchup. You can almost hear Vernon whispering “with your feet on the ground you’re a bird in ﬂight with your ﬁst holding tight to the string of your kite”
Nicola and Ryan
In the past few years, since her stage 4 diagnosis, Nicola has had to rely on her husband Ryan to take the load caring for their ﬁve year old daughter and looking after the house. They live on an idyllic plot of land out of Christchurch but their plans for running it as a small farm and produce business have been put on hold for the moment. But for the two of them, there’s always baking. Wen we ﬁrst talked Nicola was quick to identify Ryan as the one who provided the backbone she needs all day and everyday. She highlighted one of the things they loved doing most together was baking – but was quick to point out Ryan was the real cook. I photographed them making banana mufﬁns before their daughter got home from school,but what I witnessed was Ryan putting his heart into making his wife laugh.
Marjorie and Isabella
Marjorie sits reading to her granddaughter Isabella as often as she can. That special time when little ones sit on your lap transﬁxed with the story and occasionally looking up at you with wonder – as if to say ‘did that really happen’ is to Marjorie the most blissful moment she can imagine.
But there’s a process that she has to play out to get there. First her granddaughter has to chase the cat around the house. The book is then brought out but Isabella needs to hold and evaluate it for a while. Then a biscuit is introduced. Then, after the warmup, Marjorie gets her time. And with luck, the best hug, after the bit where they all lived happily ever after.
Jody & Kevin
Jody has a ﬁne arts training and has always lived a creative life – ﬁrst in London and now in Wellington where she and her husband Kevin raised their boys. Now though, her painful lack of mobility makes it increasingly hard for her to be productive and it frustrates her enormously.
When she said she has real difﬁculty being comfortable at night but Kevin is her rock with meditation and massage, I suggested a shot of them lying together might be nice. Like the born creative she is, she said “Like John and Yoko… except Kevin won’t want to be naked”. He didn’t, but these images show in her face the calming power of a true soul partner.
Pauline and Shannon
I visited and photographed Pauline in her small but immaculate Council ﬂat in Auckland. Living with advanced cancer, out of touch with her extended family and struggling to cope with troublesome neighbours, it felt like she couldn’t cut a break. She’d told me in advance the person who ﬁlled her life with most joy and strength (and thus the obvious subject to be photographed with) was her son Shannon. A larger than life young man that she’d raised on her own and lived her life for, he’d announced when he was of age he wanted to move to Australia to ‘ﬁnd his fortune’.
She was bereft, but struggled on – through changing homes and her worsening illness. Then Shannon announced he was making a work trip back to NZ… to Taupo… but “just secretly Mum, I’m going to come home to you, for good”. But in Taupo, before heading on up to Auckland to see her, he died of a massive heart attack. The photograph she’d wanted was holding a photo of Shannon – one of many strategically placed around her unit. Shannon wasn’t really gone – he was living with her again and that gives her all the strength she needs.