Easthampton Photographer Aims to Empower Women Through Portrait Sessions
Brave Moments series helps women gain self-acceptance
EASTHAMPTON—Diane Donnellan was a widow and mother of four grown sons in March 2017. She was about to turn 70 and had lost nearly 100 pounds. To mark the milestones, she sought out a session with photographer Sandra Costello.
“I found myself that afternoon,” Donnellan, of Newton, told Costello after seeing the portraits Costello later bound in a hard-cover album as part of the package. “I find myself looking at that book now and then, and just smiling. That’s me. It really is. I don’t know where I was hiding, but here I am.”
Photographing women is a new specialty for Costello, owner of Sandra Costello Photography. She calls these sessions her Brave Moments series, and her vision is to help her subjects come to a place of self-acceptance and see their own beauty.
“I believe that the photographs I take and the way that I interact with my clients is about empowering them to really love themselves,” Costello said. “We as women need to stop believing the negative things that have been said to us that aren’t true.”
The relevance of Costello’s work is greater now, she said, in this time when women are raising their voices in campaigns such as #MeToo and are wanting to be seen.
“We hear that we are fat. We aren’t smart enough. We aren’t capable. When we believe these stories, we lose ourselves,” she said. “We can change those stories, and that is part of what my Brave Moments sessions do.”
Open house, new space
Costello will celebrate her new direction at the opening of her new studio space in Eastworks in Easthampton on Sunday, Feb. 17 from 1 to 4 p.m. in Suite 147. The event is free and open to the public.
Visitors will see a gallery of Costello’s brave women on the walls and have a chance to tour the bright, 1,100-square-foot space, complete with a growing costume closet and a living room area for conversation.
Sandra Costello Photography
Costello began shooting photos in high school; as one of five children, her parents and siblings were her subjects. She also took photographs for the Daily News Tribune newspaper in Newton, where she grew up.
The first of her siblings to attend college, Costello didn’t see photography as a valid focus and instead earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Simmons College in Boston.
She began doing design work after college and started to freelance as a photographer in 1997. She moved to the Pioneer Valley in 2005 with her wife, Brett Costello, and worked full time as a designer while also making connections in the area.
Costello opened her own business in September 2010. Before moving into Eastworks, she ran her business out of her Easthampton home.
In recent years, she has shifted from primarily photographing weddings to having clients sit for portraits—professionals, families, high school seniors and women.
Her work is highlighted on her website, SandraLovesYou.com.
‘The kindest badass’
Feeling self-acceptance was an overwhelming result of Costello’s work with Gayatri Guhanarayan of Holyoke.
In February 2017, Costello asked Guhanarayan to model for her as she began her new Brave Moments direction.
“I was a nervous wreck before the photoshoot,” Guhanarayan said. “I felt fat, ugly and
unworthy of being a ‘model.’ I almost called to cancel the shoot.”
Instead, Guhanarayan showed up, relaxed into the experience, and was overcome at the reveal of her portraits. “For the first time in my life I got to experience the exuberance, comfort and lusciousness of being in my own skin and have it be captured by someone who truly values this ‘coming out’ of sorts,” Guhanarayan said. “Sandra made me actually believe that I am beautiful. I look like the kindest badass you’ll ever meet. She truly captured the real me.”
Costello’s clients often credit Costello with helping to draw them out. “Thank you for seeing a version of me that I wasn’t sure existed anymore,” one recent client told her. “Thank you for bringing me to a place where I can look at my photos and not find a reason to criticize myself.”
Said Costello, “I enjoy making those connections with these women and watching them come alive. It’s a relationship we develop. If they can open themselves to me, there’s magic.”