Benjamin Von Wong is a busy photographer. His schedule is packed with fantastical photo shoots and highly sought-after workshops. So when his agent received a curious email in September, he wasn’t sure what to do. He didn’t have much time, but he couldn’t say no to the sender’s shy request:
The email was from Nicole Mackenzie, a 54-year-old writer in Montreal. She’d seen images of her tango teachers taken by Von Wong, and she wanted him to make her look beautiful. Most importantly she didn’t want to look sick. Mackenzie was facing a grave illness. She wanted photographs of herself before she lost too much weight.
She didn’t expect to get a response. Or, if she did get one, she thought the answer would be no. So she was delighted when the phone rang and the photographer she adored was on the other end. Von Wong scheduled a time to meet with Mackenzie, and he took on the challenge of putting the essence of this wonderful, reserved, nature-lover into a photograph.
As the two talked, everything came together. The set needed to be whimsical. It needed to bring Mackenzie’s fantasy world to life. A tree with lanterns hanging from its branches. Her rug and writing desk. Books on bookshelves outdoors. A dramatic sky. What started as a short, hopeful note became a huge photo shoot for a crew of ten people, including a videographer, a hairdresser, a makeup artist, and several assistants.
As with all of Von Wong’s photo shoots, Mackenzie’s day in front of the camera was epic. Every detail helped bring her dream world to life. She posed amid piles of books. She climbed into a tree. And all the while she felt like a star. All of the images were breathtaking. They exuded Mackenzie’s spirit and beauty.
Sometimes the once-in-a-lifetime experience offered by a photographer is even more important than the final product. When told that the photos would be edited before they were sent to her, she responded by saying that the photos weren’t actually all that important anymore. She’d had a magical day, thanks to Von Wong and his talented crew, and that was what she needed.
“The day was probably one of the best days of my life.”
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