DICKINSON — Cancer is a thief. It steals time, dreams, hopes and even lives. It is among the most dreadful diseases, and in the case of breast cancer, robs women of their self-image — leaving in its wake confidence issues. Femininity can, and often does, take a back seat when a woman is fighting for their life.
A Dickinson-based photography studio, Krystal Kester Photography, is seeking to inject a little self-compassion, reduced anxiety and confidence into area women through one-of-a-kind boudoir luxury experience — for victims of domestic violence, ravaging diseases and more.
Like most entrepreneurs, Kester started off small and with an idea about what her business would be in the local community. After her first client’s photos were revealed, she knew that she was offering something more that even she could have imagined at the outset. Kester says it started with back-to-back sessions, one of which was a mother who had just had a baby and felt that she had “lost herself.”
“When they came back for their reveals, that is what sold me on doing boudoir specifically,” Kester said. “Seeing that new mom come in and see herself from my point of view and the different images that she didn’t think were possible… she left with happy tears. Their reveals and watching the transformation in them right in front of me is why I had to continue doing it.”
Kester’s mission now has the all-female photo studio seeking ways to help empower women as they embark on their next step in the healing process.
“I want to highlight that beauty isn’t only skin deep,” she said. “We want to bring back the confidence side of women that was lost or that they never knew was there.”
AN ARTISTIC STIGMA REDEFINED
Boudoir is an often stigmatic photographic style that features intimate, sensual, romantic and sometimes erotic images of its subjects in a studio setting. Something that has garnered a few hushed whispers and clutched pearls in the Western Edge’s ultra-conservative society.
Sue Novak shared her astonishing story and unbelievable spirit as a breast cancer survivor, and what drove her to sit for a risqué photoshoot. The double mastectomy and chemo survivor shared how she was tired of the scars defining her as a person in her own mind, and said she did her photoshoot not just for herself, but for all survivors who still have to struggle with the aftermath of the disease.
If you had asked Novak what beautiful meant before her bout with cancer, she said she would have most likely attributed it to a small body and perfect skin. That would have been her answer before the paradigm shifting experience she had with a group of women at KKP studios.
“Crystal was really awesome in the photoshoot. I had an idea and she loved it, went with it and the pictures just turned out amazing,“ Novak said. “I couldn’t believe it was me in those pictures. I just looked like a totally different person, but I was proud of the way the photos turned out.”
Novak said both Kester and Shauna Pengelley, office manager and one of three photographers at the studio, helped rebuild her confidence and that the boudoir session redefined how she viewed beauty and herself.
“Those ladies are so special to me and they hold such a dear place in my heart, because they really helped me see the true beauty that I have and the beauty that shows from the inside out,” Novak said. “If anyone is possibly contemplating doing this, my advice is just go for it. Be the one to get out there and I don’t want to use another person’s tagline but, ‘just do it’ because you’ll be happy that you did.”
Kester and crew believe that their work is providing clients with more than just the photos, but rather is providing their clients with positivity, confidence and self-love.
In Dickinson, the studio’s work has continued to change perspectives on a once stigmatic artistic style and has over the years seen the KKP studio grow into some of the most staunch advocates for empowering women. To the easy-going and cheerful photographers who continue the work, they see their jobs as more therapeutic than the typical photography session.
Pengelley said she experienced first hand the empowerment a private session has — herself a client.
“To have a woman come in and love herself and to see herself the way we see them is special,” Pengelley said. “To witness the empowerment and see them feel good about themselves in the process is awe inspiring.”
Pengelley added, “We have women of all walks of life. Women who have had four or five kids, women who are tired and feel rundown, women who don’t feel confident. That is what we are striving to do. For them to walk out of here and see how beautiful they are and to feel confident and get themselves back. I know people look and sometimes there is that stigma, but there is so much more behind it.”
BODY POSITIVITY IS A PROCESS
Before a client steps in front of a camera at KKP Studio, they first complete a questionnaire that helps the professional photographers gain a better understanding of what the client is looking for in their session.
On the day of the shoot, clients begin by spending time with Deanna Herbel of DMH Studio for complete hair and makeup styling.
“We tell our clients that they can bring their own lingerie if they have anything that makes them feel comfortable that they might want to wear. We also have a full client closest upstairs ranging from extra small to 5XL,” Kester said. “We have a wide variety of style, sizes that they can choose from here, so they don’t have to put much effort into it at all.”
Boudoir sessions come in several different package options, but all include an hour and hour and a half of posing and photos.
“At the end we usually send them off with a big hug and send them on their way,” Kester said. “We give them little thank you cards upstairs and some little candies. Then it takes about two or three week for us to get them all edited and finished. Then they come back in for their photo reveal.”
During the photo reveal, Kester and her team walks clients through the finished products and shows them the variety of finishing details they can provide, which includes canvases, 10×10 albums and even a digital option that is able to be securely viewed through the photo studio’s mobile application.
While empowering women through boudoir has become the mission of KKP Studio, their unique and creative ability to capture clients in all areas of photography has helped the young studio grow into a business that now offers professional headshots and business branding opportunities.
The founder and owner of KKP Studios, Kester started her modest business in 2016. It has since evolved into a group of seven women in a newly built studio completed during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The wide spacious, yet private studio gives variety in set layouts, props and a wardrobe with countless garments of all sizes.
Though their business is growing, with the added business branding and professional headshots, their boudoir sessions have become a staple — changing paradigms on the way their clients see themselves and the way society sees the art of boudoir.
“It is kind of a stigma for certain people because they don’t understand what we are going for and why we are doing this,” Pengelley said. “But there is nothing that inspires me more than getting up in the morning and coming here and watching women change before my eyes and seeing them become confident…Crystal and I both will turn our camera and show them so they get glimpse of how they look through our lens and you see them relax and smile and most of them say, ‘That is not me.’ And I am like, ‘It is you and you are stunning and we are going to continue this and these are are going to be fabulous and you are fabulous.'”
KKP Studios, while focused on women empowerment for victims and survivors, provides their catalog of photo opportunities for all women — even those who have not personally experienced trauma or disease.
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