The Oldham Project: Photographer Provides Free Life Portraits

VIDEO: Photographer Terri Shaver provides free life portraits.

Photographer Terri Shaver is in high demand. She’s got a waiting list of people hoping to be the next one to sit in front of her camera.

But her schedule doesn’t include newlyweds, high school seniors, or newborns. Instead, you’ll find people fighting for their lives, anxious to hear the click of Shaver’s camera.

Shaver has dedicated her skills as a photographer to provide free professional portraits to people suffering from life-threatening or terminal illnesses. And from the responses she’s been getting, she is convinced that her photography is providing comfort and confidence to those that walk into her studio.

“Terri made me feel beautiful and I haven’t felt beautiful in a long time,” said Theresa Oegema, who was recently photographed by Shaver.

Oegema is battling cancer for a second time. Chemotherapy has robbed her of hair and also shaken some of her confidence to look in the mirror.

That kind of reaction is what inspired Shaver to form The Oldham Project, a nonprofit organization that allows her to provide professional portraits, free of charge. The organization’s mission is guided by two goals; to give women, men and even children a chance to see themselves with renewed confidence in their fight and to present their families with a lasting memory.

Shaver started the project as a tribute to three family members afflicted with breast cancer. It was during a memorial slideshow that Shaver found a calling for her photography as a way to give back to the community.

‘It was amazing to me what happiness, what love was there in that simple snapshot in the last couple of days of her life that triggered something inside me,” Shaver said. “There was something I needed to do.”

The Oldham Project is run out of a small studio outside Lansing, Mich., where Shaver juggles the tight finances of a small nonprofit and works her skills with the camera. And to give her clients a little extra attention, Shaver has coordinated with a local salon to provide free makeup sessions before photo shoots.

While she’s usually up before dawn retouching photos or scheduling clients, Shaver is still having a tough time responding to all the interest in The Oldham Project. That’s why she sees The Oldham Project growing beyond its Michigan borders.

“Our ultimate goal is to have photographers all over the country, all over the world, operate under our non-profit,” said Shaver.

Since her first portrait in 2008, Shaver has photographed more than 150 people. It’s a different story, a different circumstance for each client - but all are linked by the belief that Shaver’s work helped bring out a picture of courage in the face of uncertainty. And for that, Shaver says she is carrying out The Oldham Project’s mission.

“I want to give them a gift,” she said, “a gift of hope, a gift of maybe seeing their beauty for the first time in their life.”

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