Standing in the attic of her North Duke Street home on Friday, Amber Lee prepared herself, and her camera, to change the lives of five York-area women.

The women in Lee’s home studio volunteered to help Lee with her latest photo shoot, though really they hoped Lee would be helping them.

The models stood around in shorts and tank-tops, baring their arms and legs for the lens. On their skin, Lee had painted what the women said were their own biggest flaws.

“Impatient.” “Anger.” “Depression.” “Weight.” “Sickle cell.” “Indecisive.” “Hopeless romantic.”

Friday’s photo shoot was part three in Lee’s “Self-Worth” photo series, in which she depicts women in an effort to help them own and embrace their self-described flaws. The project came about from a dream, Lee said, and a saying she thought up with a friend.

“We often see ourselves in unrealistic terms defined by other people,” Lee said. “Define yourself.”

The shoot started with a group photo, with the women holding a sign that read “And We Are Beautiful." Then each woman posed individually, making sure her flaws were prominently placed in the frame.

After two hours, and a few forced smiles, the shoot was over and the models began putting on their pants and jackets to brave the cold weather.

One of the models, Evelyn Parker, said that while she knows how to use angles and lighting to cover up certain things she is uncomfortable with, Friday’s photo shoot helped show her not to hide her sickle cell disease.

Parker, 28, of York City, said she has been dealing with the disease her whole life and, after being inspired by Lee and others who have embraced their flaws, is determined not to let it hold her back.


Artist Amber Lee talks about how the concept for her Self worth project came to life, during the photoshoot at her home in North York Friday, Dec. 30, 2016.

“I’m one of those people that even though you’re going through something, or you have a flaw or something, you don’t want to let that stop you,” she said.

To Parker, the photo shoot was about sharing her story and trying to inspire other people dealing with sickle cell or self-esteem and self-worth issues.

“Life is too short,” she said. “Everybody’s been though something, but you always have to think about those people who are worse off than you and how they’re still pushing, so it makes you want to continue and go on.

"That’s just how I look at life. If they can do it, I can too.”

Overcoming her struggles: Lee’s “Self-Worth” photo series was influenced by her own internal strife, she said.

As a victim of abuse during her childhood and a mother to a stillborn daughter, Lee said she sought the help of a therapist to realize her own self-worth. At the same time, she also found an emotional outlet in painting, writing and her photography.

Through therapy and art, she said she has completely overcome her self-worth issues and is “completely confident in myself and what I do and who I am.”

Having turned her own life around, Lee said she now wants to help others through their issues.

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“I really want to help other people through my art,” she said. “I really want to develop something that I can do to help others through what I’m doing. Not just photography, but to do something to make a difference. That’s where my project came into play.”

The project: Lee said she began planning, preparing and organizing the first two photo shoots for the series the morning after having a dream about the shoot.

Within a week, she said she had a dozen women signed up to be a part of the series and many others who wanted to participate but had scheduling conflicts.

After the first two shoots, Lee said she knew she had found her purpose.

“It feels like my whole life has been a struggle with myself and battles within myself,” she said. “Then finally, when I found my own confidence, it inspired me to help other people find theirs.”

Lee said she intends open the project to male models who feel the shoot could help them and continue to hold a session or two every month to see where the project goes.

“My goal is to reach as many people as possible through this, and through my art and photography and to teach them to embrace themselves,” Lee said. “I’m trying to create a movement and build this through my passion and love for art and photography … to try to help as many people as I can.”

Lee’s artwork is on display through Jan. 16 at AKBeatz Studio 117, located at 117 S. Duke St. Lee will be in the studio from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday for a live “Self-Worth” photo shoot and exhibit during York City’s First Friday events.

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