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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