Shooting the Donna Mae Collection at Philly Aids Thrift

When our friends at Philly Aids Thrift asked us if we’d be interested in shooting some looks from their newly acquired Donna Mae collection, we couldn’t believe our luck!  It’s incredibly important to us to constantly keep creating artistic work, no matter how busy our wedding photography business gets.  I think it makes us better at creating beautiful photos in any situation we encounter, and attempting a fashion shoot with various performers and volunteers at one Philly’s most thriving institutions on a Sunday during business hours, was too intriguing an idea not to try.

Donna Mae Stemmer, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and a 25 time decorated Korean war veteran, was a Philly fashion legend and a true transgender trailblazer.  Philly AIDS Thrift co-founder Tom Brennan said Stemmer was a ubiquitous presence in the LGBT community.

“It was like every time you went to something, the first question was, ‘Will Donna Mae be there?’ and the second was, ‘What will she be wearing?’” he said. “I’ve been in Philly since 1982 and I think she was at every gay event I ever went to here. And many, many since.”   A longtime member of the City of Brotherly Love Softball League, Donna Mae was known for her fabulous cheerleading outfits for games.

When Donna Mae passed away from a heart attack over the summer, Philly Aids Thrift was contacted to rescue her entire collection, before her iconic outfits were lost forever.  It was a collection unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life.   A perfect time capsule of a transgender fashion icon and the journey of her spectacular life and looks.  We photographed 4 models of all sizes, from young mothers to totally fabulous Philly performers, each in several looks they fell in love with from her stunning wardrobe.  We photographed our ladies in various nooks and crannies throughout the store channeling  their inner Donna Mae and giving her pieces some special love.  Fave Philly moment of the day? Getting on to the elevator with model and performer Stephen Quick (Ann Archy Artist), in a demure floral sundress with a pink purse and paper sunflower, as she brushes by a customer in an Eagles Jersey number 82, and blurts out, “Hey!  That’s my dad’s jersey, Mike Quick!”  And the delighted customer who said she’s been offered $400.00 for it.  Photos ensued.

A special thanks to PAT’s Jennifer Elayna Joseph for putting this whole thing together, and her partner in crime, Molly Hanulec,  our models, Stephen Quick, Qhoiyn Allure, Hanna Hamiliton, Timekia Taylor and all of the wonderful folks at Philly Aids Thrift, who constantly amaze us with dedication to art, fashion, creativity and the Philly community as a whole.  You make us proud to call Philly home.

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8 replies
  1. Bethany
    Bethany says:

    LOVE this Donna Mae Collection shoot for and with Philly AIDS Thrift! Every single piece of clothing in that collection bursts with the personality and charisma of the designer! And so much color!

  2. Amy Santos
    Amy Santos says:

    So glad you were able to take a break from being an awesome wedding photographer for this fashion shoot! Amazing photos of the Donna Mae Collection. Love the lighting and intensity. The models rocked it, too! Great work all around.

  3. andrea
    andrea says:

    Your amazing and iconic portarture definitely raises awareness of the Donna Mae collection and Philly aids thrift.

  4. Parker
    Parker says:

    I love these! It’s great to see a wedding photographer who not only embraces the LGBTQ community, but also does so out of the wedding world! And I love how these images all have so much character in them, the clothes are beautiful!

  5. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    Such amazing fashion photography! You rocked this photo shoot, this will be fantastic for bringing awareness to the Donna Mae collection & Philly Aids thrift.

  6. Samantha
    Samantha says:

    What a super fun fashion shoot at Philly Aids Thrift! I absolutely love the use of color in this and all of the models are so fun and vibrant! Awesome fashion work :)

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