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A Photo Shooting session at Ampworld.de

by Paul

5am was an early wake-up for me this Saturday last July. Rainy and windy it was also, a typical Belgian weather for the summer. The programme for the day was to pick-up Eva and head towards Germany to meet with Mina and Markus at their home near a small town, very close to the border with The Netherlands, for a photo shooting session. This was to be a 2 hours drive, if it wasn't for several road works on the Dutch highways which added half an hour to the journey. Eventually, we arrive and are welcomed by Mina and Markus in front of their house. Mina and Markus are married and the managers of the Ampworld.de website.

For those who don't know about Ampworld.de, this is a website which is professionally modeling women who are amputees, although soon, there will be male amputees modeling as well, as this as been requested regularly. The high-quality pictures and videos are then sold through the website memberships, and the money in turn helps paying for the website hosting, the photo shootings and also, most importantly, providing models with better prosthesis to those of them who can't afford it. Many models come from Eastern Europe countries, where good prosthesis is difficult and expensive to get. Good shafts manufacturing and fitting for above knee amputees, as it seems, are also quite difficult to get.

For Ampworld.de it was a slow start. Until, 3 years ago, when Markus met Mina. Mina is a young and attractive above knee amputee woman from Romania, a country where people with disabilities are still very much prejudiced and segregated. At the age of 7, she was knocked-down by a car while crossing the street, so badly crushing her knee that the leg had to be amputated. Poor medical practice and not enough blood of her group made that she almost died at the hospital that day. Eventually, she became better, and later on, one of her dearest dream was to be a model. Admitedly, she positively has the right look and stature to consider such a job. Except for that leg, that is. Ashamed of being "a cripple", which is how she would be qualified in her country, on a good day, she engaged in a model casting session without saying she was actually wearing an artificial leg. So good she is at walking with a prosthesis that no one noticed at first. Then again, modeling was for head and shoulder shots anyway, so the leg shouldn't have been an issue at all, shouldn't it be? That, unfortunately, wasn't the case, and learning that she had a disability, no matter which as it seems, she was sent home without even having been given the chance to be auditioned.

That is when she heard about this website in Germany which was professionaly modeling women who are amputees. She sent an application and soon was invited to come to Germany for a photo shooting session. Ampworld.de was providing for the expenses of travelling from Romania and back, and well as for all accommodations and costs during her stay, which is still the case today for all their models. All costs covered, models are paid, but the amount is not significant. Mind you, amputees who are engaged for modeling for prosthetic shops or prosthesis manufacturers are very seldom paid at all. And when they are, the amount is ludicrously low. "Shouldn't you be happy to just be modeling for us?" is what these models are often told.

Upon meeting Mina, Markus who was already managing Ampworld.de and the photo shootings, immediately fell in love with her, and very soon it was mutual. They got married only 3 month later and are still happily married to this date.

Mina immediately saw the potential of Markus website, as she reckoned that people with disabilities in her own country were treated in such a bad way, and this was especially true for women who are amputees. Not only in her country, but in most Eastern Europe "ex-soviet" countries, as she soon realized. To a lesser extend, this remains also the case in Western Europe countries.

Women who are amputees needed to be told that they, also, could be considered as being attractive, and that they too could indeed be modeling professionally. This in turn would help changing the way people in all countries are looking at people with disabilities, amputees in particular.

With the enthusiastic help of Mina, new models were enlisted for photo shootings. Many of which would have never considered even going out without a prosthesis, not to mention having professional pictures of themselves produced and published, without wearing a prosthesis. So damaged are their self-image and self-confidence that one of the model had even hidden her above elbow stump to her boyfriend for more than a year!

Interest was growing and soon, applications were arriving from all over the world, even from women who had already been involved as amputees participating as such in mainstream TV shows in The Netherlands and in the UK, like Kelly or Debbie, for instance, or in the U.S., like Jennifer who is regularly touring her country with an acrobatic and artistic dance show... with her having no legs at all!

A few weeks ago, Eva contacted OverGround. Eva said she was an amputee and that she still couldn't accept her disability. She is in her mid-forties, but as I was soon to discover, looks more like she is in her mid-thirties. She is Belgian from Turkish origins, an important community in Belgium, and she lives in a major Walloon city, not too distant from Brussels, where I live. After a couple of emails, we decided to meet in the real world, which we did. So we spent a couple of hours together, having coffees and teas on a windy terrace, Eva telling me about her story and me about mine.

At the age of 9, Eva went under a truck and both her legs were severely damaged, one had to be amputated above the knee, the other could eventually be saved but she was very close to losing it also. She spent almost 2 months in coma undergoing surgeries every other day or so. She eventually spent more than a year in the hospital.

But life goes on. Eva got married in her early twenties and had no less than 4 children, 3 girls and one boy. She's divorced now. As it seems, her husband never really accepted her as she was, or more to the point, her husband's parents didn't, which eventually undermined the couple's marriage foundations.

Up until recently, Eva was completely unaware to the fact that there are men who find women who are amputees attractive, also because they are amputees, and not despite being amputees. She wanted to know more about all this devotee issue, subsequently contacting OverGround to investigate.

After telling me about her story, most of our conversation centered on the devotee community, and my considerations about it. At one point, I told Eva about the fact that some amputee women had themselves got involved into producing photosets and videos of themselves and other amputee ladies, referring to Carol Davis' Productions, amongst others. Eva was amazed, and wanted to know more about it. As of today, I told her, there is only one such organization doing this seriously and at a professional level, and that would be Ampworld.de.

Although she already had been modeling for a prosthetic shop in Holland, Eva never thought it would be possible to model, that is as herself like she is. Although she believes that she looks pretty and young, which she really is, Eva had never considered the lower part of her anatomy as being something that could be looked at with interest. She was particularly concerned about her scars and, to a lesser extend, her stump. So she decided that she would contact Ampworld.de and see what was going to happen. She got in touch with Mina, and although Eva is not speaking English nor German, and Mina not speaking neither French or Turkish, the contact was immediately joyful, thanks to automatic translations. These two amazing ladies immediately became good friends.

Ampworld.de usually do not accept applications for photo shooting sessions from women who are above 35. But having seen pictures of Eva, initially they did not believe she was 46. But why would a woman lie about her age... in that direction, that is? Soon, Mina and Markus proposed her a photo shooting. As Eva does not speak English, I proposed to accompany her to be her driver and translator, but also, because I was very interested to see by myself what Ampworld.de was all about. Markus and I had been in contact in the past, but we had never met in the real world so far.

And this is how Eva and I ended up this Saturday morning, in Mina's and Markus' kitchen, having breakfast and warmly discussing with them about today photo shooting session.

While Mina is preparing Eva for make-up, hair dressing and clothing, Markus and a friend are preparing the set, which will occupy the best part of their spacious living room. Markus is equipped with professional cameras, both for photo and video shootings, as well as professional lighting equipment. Neither Mina nor Markus are originally professionals in their respective specialties, which would be make-up, hair-dressing and styling for Mina, or photography and film production for Markus. But after a few years of practice with professionals, and a lot of self-learning, they can now both honestly call themselves professionals.

A good hour later, Eva is ready for the first set; 10 others will follow during the whole day, all with different outfits. This is the right moment to point out that Ampworld.de never do nudes, and never will. This is a clear Ampworld policy which all the models are told about before they are engaged in any photo-shootings. Bikinis are the lightest clothing their models will ever wear, and only if they feel happy and comfortable wearing them.

Eva is nervous, to say the least. For the first time in her life, she will be professionally photographed as a woman, who is an amputee, just for the sake of it, that is. But nevertheless, Eva is rapidly gaining confidence and starts moving around the stage, striking poses like a real pro, while Markus is taking the pictures, often in positions defying the laws both of physics and human anatomy. Mina and I are controlling two video cameras recording the session for material which will later be edited.

After 2 or 3 different stylish and sexy outfits, Eva is now presented to the set on crutches and without her prosthesis. This is another first for her as most of the time she never loses her prosthesis. It is a fact that her prosthesis shaft is fitting her very well, causing no problem at all to her stump and crotch, which is too often the case with above knee prosthesis. She's easily getting in and out of her prosthesis, very much like she would with a sock, within a second, which she would later demonstrate. Yet, she's usually donning her prosthesis getting out of bed in the morning, and dropping it only to go back to bed or under the shower. Again, Eva is getting more and more confident as the powerful flashlights are bombarding her under Markus' camera shutter command.

The day is going on like this, in a joyful atmosphere, only interrupted by Eva changing her outfits, up until 8 at night when everyone is now completely exhausted; less me perhaps, as I wasn't doing that much all day long but holding a lightweight video-camera. Markus is printing some of the shots to show Eva who is positively amazed at how she looks, not believing this would have ever been possible.

Having something to eat and drink in the kitchen, we all four are continuing our discussions sharing mutual experiences, Mina and Eva as members of the amputee community, Markus and I as members of the devotee community, and us 4 in relation to both our communities interacting, which is not always going on in an ideal way, to say the least. My tongue is getting numb as I am constantly translating what everybody is saying from English to French and back.

Eva and I are told horrifying personal stories about Mina's life but also of several of their models about the way they have been treated as people with disabilities in their respective countries. Most of the models went out of their photo-shooting session completely transformed. This young arm amputee, for instance, who would have never showed her stump even to her boyfriend for more than year, is now sending Mina and Markus pictures of herself on the beach in bikini, the stump very well in sight! Having had her right arm amputated high above the elbow only 2 years before, she arrived to the set admitting that she practically couldn't do anything anymore with her single left hand, but also having been told that she wouldn't be able to do anything on her own so many times. Yet, "I can't" is a phrase that is not part of Mina's and Markus' language. They soon dared her that she could prepare and bake a full cake all by herself. And in the end, to her own amazement, she did.

As the day and the evening went by the objectives of Ampworld.de were becoming more and more relevant. So many of these ladies have been told horrible things like: "You'll never walk again", "You'll never find a man to marry you", "You'll never be able to get a decent job", "You'll never be good at anything" and other even much less delicate considerations of the kind. After having been through Ampworld.de photo shootings, their self-image and self-confidence have been completely transformed.

For Eva, there was no such a revolution, in part because in Belgium where she lives, people with disabilities are treated mostly decently. She confides she didn't have much trouble finding a husband and no much trouble raising her 4 children (sic!). Finding an husband who would fully accept her as she is was her main issue. She also regrets she couldn't get in touch with other women who are amputees like herself. Now that she has been through this photo shooting, and having met with both Mina as a woman who is an amputee, and Markus and me as devotees, Eva admits that things are going to be different for her now. She now knows that finding a man who will love her like she is, and also in part, because she is like she is, is definitely possible.

At one in the morning, I was dropping Eva back to her home. We got lost again on our way back in the vicinity of Roermond in Holland thanks to these road works on the highway, but eventually my inbuilt natural compass got us back on the right track. This was definitely a very interesting day for both Eva and me.

We must thank Mina and Markus for welcoming us in their home, for their kindness and professionalism through this day, and for the tremendous job they're doing with Ampworld.de in changing the way we are looking at people who have disabilities, in particular women who are amputees, and the way this look is deeply influencing these women's self-image and self-confidence.

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