Tag Archives: respect

Rafael: The Real Life Superman

The Palacios family came into my life for a Give Back Session in the early Fall of 2018 and I am so incredibly grateful to have met them and captured a small part of their journey.View More: https://katherineelysephotography.pass.us/super-familyWhen Jackie first reach out, we spoke candidly about the fact that her strong, hard working, smart, loving husband had just been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. She explained that all the members of their family were scrambling to wrap their minds around it, but that one thing was certain: they wanted to take photos with the entire family right now to commemorate their tight knit bond before treatment started, “just in case”. When someone says “just in case” in a conversation like this, you don’t even have to think. You hold back the tears stinging your own eyes and say, “absolutely I can fit you in, are you free Saturday morning?”.View More: https://katherineelysephotography.pass.us/super-family

When we met that morning I was blown away by the smiling and laughing faces before me. There was no moping and no sadness, just endless love and appreciation for their patriarch and everything he’s done for their family. Jackie and Raphael have 4 amazing kids and a whole gaggle of adorable grand kids. He was very recently blessed with an additional granddaughter that he was able to meet and enjoy. I relished the experience of seeing Raphael interact and draw strength from all the joy he was surrounded by. He was definitely a fighter, and his whole family would be the team he needed to get him through this. They constantly assured me they’d be right there with him every step of the way. View More: https://katherineelysephotography.pass.us/super-familyIt came as no surprise to me that Rafael is affectionately nicknamed “Superman” by many of his friends and family. Even before his diagnosis he was working out, giving back to his community, and overall living life to the fullest. It is with a heavy heart and tremendous sadness to have learned of his passing over the past weekend. He was in hospice at home, surrounded by his beautiful family, and I know he felt loved and treasured in his last moments with them.View More: https://katherineelysephotography.pass.us/super-familyIn hindsight, the nickname Superman seems to have come with a purpose; to be a reminder of his strength in all of life’s challenges. Rafael was Superman and Superdad and no one will ever forget that. If you’re wondering what you can do to celebrate Rafael’s life, take some time to give to The American Cancer Society and/or attend their fundraiser, Relay for Life, this coming Saturday. Please also send all of our thoughts and love to the Palacios family during this incredibly difficult time. Rest in Peace Superman.View More: https://katherineelysephotography.pass.us/super-family




I met Torrie a few years back at a wedding I was shooting. We hit it off during our time together on the day and stayed in contact on social media over the years, encouraging one another as friends from a distance and watching one another grow and flourish. After a time of mostly online friendship, we managed to carve out time to get together over wine and chat. We got to know one another well and build our friendship into something tangible and strong. With that build up came understanding. With that understanding came trust. With trust came the development of a project that Torrie and I feel wildly passionate about working on together and sharing through Katherine Elyse Photography.

The story presented here is all Torrie’s. As her friend and photographer, I hope the images act as a vessel for her to share her experience in a way that is safe and accurate. I’m using her words, taken directly from an interview my good friend David N. Sachs conducted the day of her shoot, with a few back end tweaks by Torrie to round everything out.


“This is the story of my journey into loving myself and body acceptance, into feeling comfortable in my own skin.”


“In 2005, I was diagnosed with Stage 2B Cervical Cancer. Before that, I had had a number of different cervical changes related to HPV, which is pretty common nowadays. But in 2005, it was less common and all I knew about HPV was that it was one letter off from HIV- which meant that it had no cure and that it was sexually transmitted- and that it could either cause warts or cervical cancer. And the warts never came.

I had HPV prior to the cancer diagnosis. I actually found out that I had HPV from a clinical trial at the hospital when I was 12 years old– after I had been sexually assaulted.”


“As a religious kid, having a sexually transmitted disease is a good way to be looked down upon, no matter how you got it. Especially when you are 12 years old. I had to start making up stories about my life and my body so that I felt accepted in my own skin and so that I wouldn’t be shunned from the community.

It didn’t really work.

I was still shunned from my community and felt a lot of shame about who I was and felt mostly like it was my fault that I had been assaulted.”


“I was diagnosed with cancer at 19. I had just gotten married and I felt like I earned it- that it was my fault that I had cancer and, therefore, really just needed to do anything that I was told. I didn’t ask any questions about what was supposed to happen to me or if I had a choice in anything concerning my care. And so over a period of three years I was led through my care without having asked any questions at all. I didn’t have time.

At the end of that three years I had had seven surgeries that completely mangled my body (especially my sexual organs) and ruined my marriage with my husband because I couldn’t have kids, which was an important thing to him.  And, let’s face it: being young and married to someone with cancer is really scary. I didn’t know that I couldn’t have kids until after treatment ended because I didn’t stop to ask any questions; I didn’t care about myself or about my body enough to actually do something about it to take control or to even feel like I had a choice in my decisions.”

“I started out having an unhealthy relationship with myself in relation to others before I actually even knew who I was or what I wanted. I spent 20 years believing that it was my fault and that I was being punished for something that was outside of my control.”


“But I have a different relationship with my body and myself because I had cervical cancer.”

“I learned more about myself in the process of having cancer than anything that I had gone through beforehand. I learned that I wanted to give back to the healthcare system to help make sure that people, especially people going through an illness, know what their choices are, and are educated about how to sit across the table from a doctor who they often feel has more power and knowledge than they do. I was really interested in figuring out how we do that, how we slow down the process of decision making in healthcare. I ended up going to school for public health, focusing specifically on people who are vulnerable- poor populations, minorities, people who don’t have a lot of education or power. Because I went through this process of needing to understand my resources more than anybody else. I wanted to give power to other people and a voice to other people.”

“When you are cancer free for 5 years, you are supposed to have a party, and I was not going to have cancer againuntil I did.” 


And this was a completely different situation than last time. The tumor was outside my body, and it was going to change the way that the outside of my body appeared; and I didn’t have the ability to control how I shared it. Also, it was close to my clitoris, and I really liked my clitoris. I didn’t find that out until my late 20’s, in between my two bouts of cancer. I had discovered this magical thing that could give me sexual pleasure and made me feel powerful, and now it was just going to be taken away from me.”


This time, though, I wasn’t going to just be led through my treatment without asking any questions.

I was almost immediately offered a complete vulvectomy, which is basically “we’re just going to remove everything on the outside, including your clitoris.” I made sure to ask that question. But my oncologist had already scheduled the surgery for me, without even asking if I wanted it or not.

So immediately this became a different situation then my first bout with cancer. During my first bout, it was a big deal but I was at least pretty confident that I was going to live. This time, it was a later stage of cancer and a lot more serious, so I knew that I needed to make some decisions. But I was ill-equipped to make them.”


“I still didn’t really like myself, and I still held this view that I deserved it or I was being punished for somehow not figuring out how to get out of that situation from when I was 12. I had to learn that my body was worth fighting for. That my dignity was worth fighting for.

So I had a consultation with a social worker in palliative care who asked me what my goals were in life. What mattered to me. She told me that I actually had a very good prognosis. I was likely to live through this circumstance. And so we started talking about what was important to me in life going forward.

And I had three goals:

The first goal was that I wanted to maintain sexual function. I knew that I couldn’t have children and so having sex was really important to me. I had just learned about my clitoris. I was going to keep my relationship with it.”


“The second is that I’m a cyclist, so I wanted to be able to cycle. It’s the place where I clear my mind. With that surgery, I actually wouldn’t have been able to ride a bicycle ever again.”


“The third was that I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and not feel mangled. It had nothing to do with the relationship that I had with somebody else or having sex with somebody else and not wanting them to look at me in a different light. It had everything to do with being able to look in the mirror myself and feel like a whole person.”


“It was really empowering to make the decision to do what was best for my body. For me. It’s only been recently that I can say that I never needed to be forgiven for something that happened to me that wasn’t my fault. I’ve learned a lot about the fact that the mindset being carried on throughout my life kept me, in a lot of ways, the same age I was when I was assaulted.

And I feel like the moment that I let go of all of the shame that I had about my body, about things that happened to me, I realized that I’m not a girl, I’m a warrior.

I realized that I don’t need to be pushed around, that I have no interest in being pushed around and that I deserve everything that I want. I’m learning that I’m worth loving. That i’m worth fighting for. And I want to help others, especially those going through the healthcare system, believe the same.”



All images are copyright of Katherine Elyse Photography. Images are owned by Katherine Elyse Cohen of Katherine Elyse Photography. For image use requests, please email katherineelysephotography@gmail.com

To Be Woman – Part 3

As time goes on and I continue this project I feel an ever stronger urger to continue sharing stories of women who fight and overcome. There is so much strength that comes from listening to others. Stories that feel so personal to the teller sometimes make a profound impact on the most unlikely listener. Stories preserve our past and help us create a stronger, smarter, kinder future. As we push forward into uncertain waters, I hope we can all take the time to listen and share with one another in the hopes of creating a more connected and respectful world.

Please view the previous installments of the project here:

To Be Woman

To Be Woman: Part 2

If you’re interested in becoming a part of this project and sharing your story, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me personally HERE.



To be a woman is to be mocked by the man behind the counter at Calumet Photographic:

He made fun of me, laughing at me, telling me I was “mixing two alcohols” by purchasing film chemistry & cf cards.

I shall not be moved by sexism

To be a woman is to be sexually harassed by the man who owns the photo studio down the street:

He put his hands all over my shoulders, neck, stomach, back, while he told me he treats photography as sexual foreplay & only photographs women he wants to fuck; then he asked to photograph me.

I shall not be moved by patriarchy

To be a woman is to be abashed by the promoter who puts on Erotic Art Events:

He asked me to lie & advertise false sales, I was to only bring in female models for “the patrons delight”, no male models, then he ran his hand down my thigh, & patted my ass.

I shall not be moved by chauvinism

To be a woman is to promote the idea that my work is amazing, phenomenal & groundbreaking though, when the exact same work is presented by a man, it is be merely mediocre.

I shall not be moved when Forbes states that my photography profession is “ruled” by women.

Women only represent 50% in number & average less than 17K annually.

To be a woman is to break the glass ceiling, only to be sliced open as is shatters.



I have been called River Diva. I have been called Last Chance Hollywood Cuddlenick. I have been called bitch and every other demeaning name under the sun. I have been told I don’t belong on the river, never mind that I have achieved numerous certifications and have many years of experience. I will never be hired at certain companies in Canada, Switzerland and Italy, all for the single reason that they don’t hire women. I have heard the disappointment in a customer’s voice when they realize they “have gotten the girl guide.” I prove them wrong every single time. However, I shouldn’t have to. Me being a female guide isn’t the problem. The outdated notion of what a woman “should be” or “can do” is the problem. I am exactly where I should be – doing what I love. I have been called Adventure Barbie, but make no mistake, I am no Barbie Doll.

To Be Woman: Part 2

This is the second installment of the TO BE WOMAN photo project and blog series. It aims to focus in on women’s lives and women’s stories in an attempt to bring us closer together through honesty, empathy, and understanding. This week since the Women’s March has been unfailingly frightening, but I’m filled with a defiant and nagging sense of hope over the thought that there are so many people out there willing to stand up and fight for the rights that we all desperately deserve. Women of the world will not be forced into silence; we will not take demeaning and dehumanizing actions lying down. Together, we will fight.

Please read a full description of the project and view the first three incredible women HERE.

If you are interested in becoming a part of this project (and I would absolutely LOVE that), please contact me via email at katherineelysephotography@gmail.com.


#women #woman #femenism #respect #thefutureisfemale #femenistfuture #fucktrump



I will not be deterred by anyone else who seeks to define my worth.

“I love this new world. I no longer have to be politically correct,” Christopher von Keyserling, longtime member of the city council in Greenwich, Connecticut, allegedly said before he grabbed his female coworker’s genitals on December 8, 2016. Thankfully, there was a security video that caught it on tape, or it could have very well been ‘his word against hers’ as he warned her, and his threat that no one would believe her could have very well unfolded. His lawyer defended his actions as “playful” and “too trivial to be considered anything of significance.”

When I think of myself in this woman’s position, I am mortified. When I think of my little sister in her position, however, or in any position where she is being treated as a body that does not deserve equal respect as a human, I am beyond devastated. I am utterly heartbroken. I am sick to the core of my being.

More importantly though, when I think of her being treated this way, I am livid. I am possibly angrier than I have ever felt. I am ready to fight to the death to protect her, to protect her rights, to protect her happiness.

It’s honestly harder for me to apply this heartbreak and anger to myself, because when I think of myself, I think of the many criticisms and insecurities I have collected about myself over the years that would make me less than worthy of that response. And I don’t think that’s an accident: I think people can prey on others, and male identities can prey on female identities, when there is vulnerability from a lack of self esteem and self worth.

I’m not just talking about patriarchal societies which seek to use and control women, I’m also talking about capitalism itself and how it feeds on and grows from people’s insecurities, males and females alike. Fear will sell products like nothing else. It will also sell ideas.

At some point in the past few years I decided I don’t want to buy the ideas. I don’t want to be submissive or docile or self-compromising or disgusted by myself. I don’t want to buy the idea that I am only useful for sexual or child-productive means. I don’t want to buy the idea that my life has to be anything other than what I feel is right.

As for my body, which I once starved almost to death out of fear of rejection or disapproval by others… I don’t buy the idea that I should be ashamed of my body, for being too fat or too thin, or too sexual or not sexy enough, or imperfect or not photogenic, or alive and farting and growing hair. This body is my story, down to every wrinkle and scar. My story has been glorious. And no one can take that away.

And it will never again be given away because of a culture or a president that says I need approval or validation from men, or from anyone else. This is my vow. When I summon love for myself, exactly as I am, right here, right now, no amount of intimidation or insult can touch me. When I know my own worth, I can get angry for myself too.

And so my fight begins here, with my own perspective on these things I spent so much of my life hiding from and being humiliated by; realizing that it is always in my power to see the beauty of my own story:

My breasts are slightly different sizes= options! Who doesn’t like options?

The roll on my belly= proudly earned talisman from my recovery from my eating disorder!

The scar on my face= I can tell little kids I’m a pirate! Pirates are adventurous and exciting!

The acne scars on my butt= my own unique constellations!

Hair under my arms= I have more important priorities!

Hair on my legs= excellent warmth for my winter backpacking in Europe

Bunions/incredibly ugly feet- I can’t believe I was a real ballerina for a while.

Nipples visible through my shirt: not trying to be sexy, not trying to be offensive, just trying to be comfortable

Bring it on.



I shall not be moved by racism.

By definition, racism is defined as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” The definition has blended into a fluid part of everyday life in the United States. Let me ask you this: Do you laugh when a group of Chinese-Americans laugh at selfie sticks and say, “That’s so asian!”. Do you curse at a poor driver and comment, “Stupid asian drivers…”.

With the results of the recent election, I’ve noticed friend groups becoming significantly more polarized. Two conversations rotate amongst the groups: (1.) Laughter at the “white people” and mocking their “white privilege”, while naming me as “white-washed” therefore assuming I should be able to talk sense into them; (2.) Outrage at the minorities and stereotyping them as a cult.

Why am I “white-washed”.

Why am I the buffer.

Just let me be me.

Gia is one of my closest friends. She is Italian-American and we have known each other for 15+ years. And guess what? She makes her own dumplings from scratch and I make her grandmother’s lasagna once a month. We inspire each other to move through this barrier of racism and grow stronger. Nothing can break our friendship.

Racism will not move us. Don’t let it move you.



I will not be deterred by my own fear.

2016 was an interesting year for me personally, and on a wide spectrum, from very happy to very sad. It was the year that I finally allowed myself the freedom to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression. It was the year that I finally gave myself enough forgiveness to admit that both of those things are real diseases, real demons, and not weakness or my own defects. It was when I decided that love, actually, had to be the thing that won in my own life so that I can be happy and the best version of myself.

It sounds a bit self-indulgent, but none of that has been easy.

There have been days where I’ve cried in the bathroom at work, so no one would see me, because I could offer no real explanation for why there were tears. There were nights when I could not sleep, because I could not escape my racing thoughts. There were days when I was too paralyzed with fear to leave my house to visit friends.

But the one thing I’ve learned again and again through all of this, is that I cannot be afraid. I cannot fear my own thoughts when they are cloudy. I cannot fear being honest, out in the world, about who I am, how I feel, or what I believe.

With a new president coming into office, one who, to say the very least about it, does not share any of my ideals, is terrifying. But I’ve already decided that fear can’t be the victor in my own life, and so I will not back down from the challenges that this new version of America poses. Just as I will not back down from fighting my own battles with mental health. I will not let fear, in any capacity, dominate my life. And I will fight for what I now know is the most important thing: love.



I will not be deterred by hopelessness.

When I peer into the past, I see a family that had no choice but to be resilient. My father taught me strength, my mother taught me patience, and my brother taught me to stand up for what is right, even if you cannot physically stand. Thinking about the current moment we find ourselves in, it’s so easy to drift towards thoughts of fear and defeat, to the point of paralysis. But my family raised a strong, educated, and compassionate woman, so I cannot lose hope. We were made for these times.

We are alive in a moment in which we feel the impacts of climate change, and have the last opportunity to stop irreparable damage. We already have the tools needed to build a sustainable and just future. I close my eyes and can see that future so clearly.

The Haudenosaunee, my ancestors, believe in living and working for the benefit of the seventh generation into the future. Colonialists (also my ancestors) tried to wipe them out seven generations ago. We are the seventh generation. We were made for these times.

So I shall not be moved, because of those that came before me, those that raised me, and those who will come seven generations after me.