This is the second Northwest Originals profile, wherein I interview locals who spice things up around here through their interesting and productive lives. You can read the first one here.
When you first meet Lynette Johnson, you’ll probably notice an elegant woman dressed with an artist’s flair for style. But soon it’s her enthusiasm and passion that shine. This is a woman with a fierce sense of purpose.
On this particular morning, she shows up at the neighborhood bakeshop wearing bright red rubber boots and vivid blue leggings with big stars—her Wonder Woman outfit—at the request of her young grandson, whom she’s seeing later.
You can tell pretty quickly that life around Lynette is never boring.
As founder of Soulumination (a nonprofit that honors children/parents facing life-threatening illness through photography), professional photographer, cancer patient/survivor, and fundraiser extraordinaire, she has a mission.
“I want my life to stand as one that was giving.”
Becoming a Photographer
Lynette was raised in Sequim, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula with room to roam and many animals to call her own (from ducks and chickens to sheep, pigs, cattle, and horses). There was not a lot of exposure to the arts, but she craved seeing family photos anytime she visited friends. “I remember specifically loving hallways that were lined with family photos in black and white,” recalls Lynette.
It didn’t take long for people to notice Lynette’s striking photographs of her girls. Friends started asking her to photograph their children, too, then weddings got in the mix. Soon this self-taught photographer’s reputation for artistic, natural, black and white photographs spread.
“I wanted the images to be real, with a goal of photos that people would want to hang for their artistic value, not just as a wedding photos.”
Her client mix has included a Who’s Who of Seattle (from professional athletes to Bill and Melinda Gates).
|Lynette's youngest daughter as a young girl.
Becoming a Soul Photographer
A heartbreaking experience in 2004 changed everything for Lynette, when she was asked by her sister-in-law to take photos of her stillborn baby. The on-duty nurse’s lack of compassion at the time made Lynette want to photograph infants like her niece to honor them, however brief their lives.
Coincidentally, a bride who was a client of Lynette worked at the pediatric advance care unit at Seattle Children’s Hospital. When she learned of this bride’s job, Lynette immediately offered to photograph seriously ill babies at Children’s. Then Lynette’s daughter asked her to photograph a preteen who was dying of a brain tumor. The same day she also met a teenaged Guatemalan boy in the cancer unit at Children’s and became friends until he passed away.
|Lynette with a photo she took of her Guatemalan friend Francisco.
“Photographing these children is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was so obvious there was a need to honor and photograph these kids,” explains Lynette. “It was just the right thing to do.”
So she founded Soulumination in 2005 as a nonprofit to further her mission, tapping into other photographers willing to follow her lead. In 2005, Lynette was featured in a People magazine article, then was interviewed by Anne Curry for a segment that appeared on the Today Show (see clip below). Heck, she's even given a TEDxUofW talk.
Over the years Lynette has gotten a lot of publicity and is on a first-name basis with many influential people in Seattle (including some Seahawks and Mariners). And Soulumination has grown to over 60 professional photographers who donate their services for families with children as well as parents facing life-threatening illnesses.
|Hugs with a favorite (former) Seahawk.
In one of life’s unpleasant ironies, Lynette herself was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma). While she’s currently enjoying good health and training for the Big Climb Seattle (a stairclimb up Seattle’s tallest building to raise funds for blood cancer treatment), she’s suffered through difficult treatments. (BTW Lynette is pictured on the front page of the Big Climb link along with her daughters.)
Interestingly, it has helped kids open up to her. After Lynette finished treatment a few years ago, she was asked to photograph a family with twin boys, one of whom was diagnosed with leukemia.
|Lynette enjoying time with a "Soul" kid.
|More fun with another Soul kid.
“Cancer has made a difference in my work with Soulumination,“ says Lynette. “I think I was a compassionate person before, but you can’t help but be changed by treatments and frequent visits to SCCA [Seattle Cancer Care Alliance], where you see so much heartache and suffering.”
Lynette sees a lot of people undergoing treatment for cancer pull inward, but it makes her open outward, like dressing up in silly costumes to make kids and health care providers laugh (…there was that Cat woman costume, among others.) And it has driven her to raise funds for treatment of blood cancer.
|The Wizard of Seattle (aka Lynette) at Gasworks Park
How You Can Help
Lynette is currently training and fundraising for the Big Climb again in March 2019. You can donate to her team here. If you’re moved by the mission of Soulumination, you can donate here. Thanks to Lynette and Soulumination for all the photos used in this post! And below is short documentary that Soulumination produced about who they are and their mission.