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She empowers others through photography

Elaine Turso is the artist behind a charity calendar project. - Leslie Kelly
Elaine Turso is the artist behind a charity calendar project.
— image credit: Leslie Kelly

She probably doesn’t think of herself as a “world changer.” But Elaine Turso is changing the world one photograph at a time.

And Turso, a Bremerton photographer, has a new project that is meant to celebrate, inspire and empower world-changing women like herself.

“I woke up one morning with this idea to do a calendar for charity,” Turso said. “I thought it should be something that would help women. But nothing that would objectify women — like a pin-up calendar.”

Her first idea was something to highlight those who have been the subject of domestic violence. But she decided that would be “too dark.”

“So, I made a list of adversities that women have had to endure,” she said. “Then I just began talking to friends about the list.”

She put the list on Facebook and she asked women with stories about subjects like cancer, racism, hunger, addiction and violence to contact her.

“I didn’t tell them about the calendar,” she said. “I just listened to their stories.”

She interviewed many women and made videotapes of them telling their stories. She chose 12 women to feature and asked them to be in the calendar.

They include:

• A woman who is a Hodgkins Lymphoma survivor;

• A woman who is fighting breast cancer and had a mastectomy;

• A woman who was the victim of racism;

• A woman who was was bullied in school;

• A woman who is deaf;

• A woman who is a trans-female;

• A woman who is ending hunger in impoverished areas by building gardens and feeding centers in Mexico;

• A woman who is changing the world by going to Africa to teach midwives and doulas about child birth;

• A child of Thalidomide, a drug given to pregnant women for morning sickness resulting  in birth defects;

• A women who is a domestic violence survivor;

• A woman who is a recovering addict with nine years sober;

• And a woman who shed 130 pounds.

Each woman was treated to a photo shoot, with makeup and hair done for them. From that, photographs were chosen for the calendar which she titled “The Empowerment Project.”

The calendar will premiere Dec. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the SEEFilm in Bremerton. The women featured in the calendar will be on hand to sign calendars. Each calendar is $25 and all proceeds will be given to the YWCA ALIVE Shelter, which helps victims of domestic violence.

Turso said she felt a great sense of accomplishment when she hit the “send” button on her computer, sending the project off to the printer in Lyndon, Wash.

“It’s so meaningful to me,” she said. “These women are so strong. As we were doing the interviews for the videos, I cried more than once.”

Turso’s work means a lot to those featured, too.

“We say we’re empowered,” said Maria, one of the featured women. “But we are all fragile. Elaine is the glue that has kept us together. She’s such a strong woman.”

Turso said doing the calendar helped her in many ways. As a professional photographer, it added to her portfolio. As an artist, it allowed her to be creative. But so important to her, it allowed her to connect to a friend.

“I have a friend in California who is battling breast cancer and it kills me that I can’t be there with her,” Turso said. “Being with these women and doing this project — they were a surrogate for that.”

She had hoped to feature a woman who was homeless, but couldn’t find one who wanted to share her story. Maybe next year.

In order that all the proceeds go to charity, Turso signed on business sponsors to cover the upfront cost and printing. She hopes to sell from 250 to 500 calendars and be able to give the YWCA $5,000.

Although she hasn’t seen the final product yet, she’s very happy with the work. On each page, there is a link to go online and hear each featured woman’s story.

“Hearing each of them tell their story in their own voice makes the project so much more real,” she said.

She doesn’t have a favorite photograph in the calendar, but she did relate to one woman, more than the others.

“She had a double mastectomy and was hesitant to show her scar,” Turso said. “She was scared and didn’t want to face it.”

So Turso told her that she, too, was disfigured.

“When I was 5, my shirt caught fire and I was badly burned on my chest,” she said. “For years I hid behind clothes, just like this woman.  But because of what these women did for this project, this year, for the first time in a long time, I wore a sundress.”

The women are featured tastefully, but the photos artistically show what they’ve been through. Turso calls them “world changers.”

“They saw a need and they filled it,” she said. “They’re sharing their stories to help other women.”

As for another calendar next year, she’s thinking about it.

“Part way through this one, I wasn’t sure I could get it done,” she said. “But these women would have been let down. And their stories need to be told.”

Celebrate, Inspire, Empower:

Attend the calendar party from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 4, at SEEfilm theater, 655 Fourth Street in downtown Bremerton. Refreshments will be offered by Aloha Kitchen. Find out more or reserve a calendar at www.empowermentproject.eventbrite.com.

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