Lorraine Milligan had just taken up photography when her partner was diagnosed with male breast cancer. With little experience and only the most basic gear she created a national awareness campaign. She tells Nigel Atherton the inspirational story
In March 2018, Lorraine Milligan’s father gave her his old Nikon D40 for her birthday, with its kit lens and a 70-300mm zoom, after people had commented about what a good eye for composition she had, taking pictures on her iPhone. Although Lorraine had spent 16 years as a hair and make-up artist in the music, fashion, film and TV industries, working with some of the top photographers and artists in the business, she had never used an SLR herself. But she learned a lot from watching the photographers at work and how they used light, and she increasingly felt the desire to give it a go. She did not know it at the time, but this gift would change her life.
‘I didn’t actually use the camera until July,’ Lorraine recalls. ‘One of my long-term clients offered me a paid commission to take some portraits of her, saying that because I knew her face so well from being her hair and make-up artist that she trusted I would have the correct eye to photograph her as well, despite my inexperience with a camera. I also knew that my previous career as a dancer would help me understand posture and body positioning.
‘Just before the shoot I literally just picked up the D40 for the first time and took a couple of pictures to check that it worked, then off I went to her house. I photographed her against a blank wall, and the light was perfect. We had already discussed styling, hair and make-up and had put the perfect wardrobe collection together for her. I gave her a large variety of images, all unretouched and ready to use, and she was delighted with them. She recommended me to her clients and before I knew it, I found I was earning an income as a portrait photographer, creating an entire imaging package, with the USP of real, raw but artistic images, with no retouching’
Then, on 12 November 2018, four months after that first shoot, Lorraine’s partner Richard was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, which had spread to his lymph nodes, lungs and liver. He had just turned 40. Their lives changed forever.
‘Richard had a lump under his right nipple since the age of 11 and had visited his GP on several occasions over the years, only to be told “I can categorically tell you that will never turn to cancer”. Sadly they were wrong. Around 400 men per year in the UK, are diagnosed with Breast Cancer, compared with around 55,000 women’.
After Richard’s diagnosis, Lorraine was plunged into trying to juggle caring for him, keeping all her client commitments and being mum to her nine year old son. But she found solace in her work. ‘Being creative and artistic was an outlet. It was like meditation,’ she recalls.
Then one day, sitting in the chemotherapy ward with Richard, Lorraine had an epiphany. ‘I caught the eye of a lady sitting opposite me who was wearing a pink woolly hat with a nipple on the top. We smiled and she said “Do you like my nipple hat?”
I asked if she had one in blue for Richard, and then we just started chatting. Amanda looked beautiful and I told her so. She didn’t have any hair, but she looked fabulous in her hat. She asked what I did and I said I was a hair and make-up artist and photographer and straight away she said “I’d love you to take some pictures of me for my personal journal, scars and all.”
‘Suddenly I thought, “This is my purpose! This is why this camera was placed in my hands.’ I immediately had the idea for a campaign, because there is nothing out there for male breast cancer awareness. I visualised the final poster in my head, in every detail.’
Lorraine shared her idea with Amanda and asked if she would be part of the campaign ‘It was a big deal for her because she had originally asked me for some private pictures and suddenly I wanted her to be part of an awareness campaign, but she agreed. So between Amanda’s Breast Cancer friends and mine, I had a full line up of ladies I call my ‘breast friends’ and my Richard’.
The pictures were taken over four separate shoot days in different houses. The first was with Amanda and four friends, shot in Amanda’s bedroom. ‘There was only about a metre of space to stand in, between the bed and the wardrobe. I shot with the window behind me and it was a soft cloudy day, so there was a lovely natural light on the models. I had ordered a grey distressed background, which made the perfect backdrop, with it’s vintage style vignette effect’.
Lorraine asked everyone to wear a buttoned, plain white shirt for styling for the shoot. ’I only wanted to show their scars and what they were comfortable with, the shirt also gave a uniformed look for consistency between pictures and contrasted with the backdrop; the emphasis was not on their clothes. The body language and facial expressions needed to be natural, relaxed, confident and dignified. I had to make sure all the portraits were to the same crop, with my eye, with their heads the same size in each picture’.
Over the four shoots, Lorraine took all of the pictures that she needed for the poster, including the portraits of Richard himself and some small group shots. The next step was to create the poster. Lorraine does not have any photo editing software on her old laptop, so she copied the pictures from her memory card to her Dropbox account. Then she opened the pictures from the Dropbox app on her iPhone, into Apple’s free built in Photos app, where she converted them to mono using the Silvertone filter preset.
‘I chose black and white, because I wanted the pictures to look like pieces of cinematic artwork’, she explains. For the final step Lorraine imported her black and white pictures to Aviary app (‘which you can’t get any more I believe, but it still works on my phone’) and finally added a soft dark vignette to draw the eye into the subjects faces and beautiful augmentations.
‘The black and white treatment shows the scars off beautifully, but with the filter you still feel the warmth of the skin tone’.
To make the poster she complied the 12 portraits together using another app PicCollage, which is a graphic design tool. ‘I wanted people to look at the poster and register that it’s a breast cancer campaign and then suddenly see the picture of a man, Richard, amongst the women’.
The final touch was the bluegetittoo logo, which she created on a friend’s laptop using Canva, whilst having a quick coffee. ‘I came up with the name straight away’, continues Lorraine, ‘because breast cancer is always talked about and advertised by charities as a female disease, associated with the colour pink. This made the diagnosis even harder for Richard to accept, as a young fit man, having a ‘pink cancer’ that’s exclusively for women. Wrong! Blue get it too!’ I visualized the logo with the male and female gender symbols forming the double O, in pink and blue, together in unity.
Having taken the photos using a 12 year old entry level digital camera and then editing them and creating the poster using free iPhone apps, Lorraine launched this most low tech, DIY campaign herself on social media at the beginning of October to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month – along with an emotive short, 4 minute film entitled Men Too? to support their story and her campaign, which she made with friend and filmmaker Neale James of Breathe Pictures. Not bad for someone who five months earlier, had never used a DSLR.
The response has been phenomenal. In the first week of the campaign the film hit over 10k views on social media and she has already appeared on radio, TV and in the National Press and has been seen and heard by hundreds of thousands of people. But for Lorraine, the most important person in this whole process has been Richard himself. Richard has been very supportive of the campaign, even though he has no personal interest in social media’ reflects Lorraine. ‘It has given him some strength knowing he is not alone in the breast cancer world. Men often find it difficult to talk about illness and being surrounded by 11 ladies who have gone through this experience has been cathartic for him. But unlike the ladies, Richard’s cancer, being metastatic, won’t be removed, which for me makes the image even more poignant. He is proud of what I have achieved with this campaign, it is Richard’s legacy. I felt compelled to share our story. Breast cancer is real in men. Men must check their chests too, there is no shame, we are all made the same’
Read more about Lorraine and the campaign at www.lorrainemilligan.co.uk/bluegetittoo
Follow the bluegetittoo campaign on Facebook and instagram: @lorrainemilliganmua_imaging
Or on YouTube: Men Too?