Stacy Kaye, a journalist and account executive with Washington, D.C.-based Mike Smith Public Affairs, was thrilled to be named one of Shape magazine’s 2011 self-esteem role models. “I knew right away this would be an exciting opportunity like no other,” says Kaye, 36, an incomplete T12 para. “After all, how often does a healthy woman using a wheelchair get to be, in effect, an ambassador in a national women’s magazine that reaches a circulation of over 1.6 million homes?”
Adding to Kaye’s excitement was finding out the photos would be shot by Mary Ellen Mark, a photographer whose long list of awards spans three decades. Mark is perhaps best known for black-and-white portraits that document the lives of people on the margins of society, such as the famous 1987 photos of a homeless family in Los Angeles who lived out of their car. Yet, even though Mark’s reputation is daunting, Kaye ensured her own views and experiences drove her photo shoot for Shape.
“It was very important to me that I talk with Mary Ellen prior to the shoot,” says Kaye, who is a freelancer with published articles on topics ranging from farming to tackling illiteracy. She is also finds time to be a contributor to mobileWOMEN.org, an online magazine for women wheelchair users. “I thought about all the times I had flipped through magazines in the beginning years of my injury, those years when I had serious doubts about how I could mesh my pre-injury and post-injury life together. I was well aware that being in this magazine was a unique opportunity, and ultimately I represent more than myself. I suggested that I wanted the photo to be a representation of how I actually sit and act. For instance, I don’t like feeling attached to the chair.” Kaye became disabled 10 years ago while on assignment as a TV reporter.
Mark agreed with Kaye’s suggestions, which is how the strong, dignified pose of Kaye ended up being the one in Shape. After the shoot, Mark told Kaye that she found working with Kaye and her wheelchair interesting. “Imagine that,” says Kaye. “This woman has recently spent time in ghettoes and taking photos of prostitutes, and she found working with me interesting!”