Vision In Focus » Brand Photography and Business Portraits from Cynthia August Images

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  • Cynthia August is a Portrait Photographer in Boston.

Continued from Part Two

In June 2018, I traveled to Northern France with author Bethany Groff Dorau to document her visit to the Belleau Wood Battlefield and Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. Her trip was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood and the death of US Marine Eben Bradbury, the subject of Dorau’s most recent book. While there, I met and photographed the French and American staff that cares for the graves and the site.


It didn’t take long to discover who was keeping such perfect gardens, and why. Not five minutes after we parked and got out of our car, another rental Citroen pulled up next to us in the empty parking lot and two rock-solid, clean-cut young guys climbed out with purpose. One spoke to the other in an unmistakable accent.  Bethany and I exchanged glances. These were Boston kids for sure! It was too much of a coincidence to ignore, and so, of course, we spoke up. Soon we were tagging along with our new friends, a Marine from Swampscott, MA and his cousin, as they headed off to drink water from the Devil Dog fountain, which is located near the cemetery.

Drinking from the Devil Dog Fountain in Belleau

A special ritual for a Marine, the town is reputed to be where the Marines got their nickname and their mascot. Our friend was, understandably, a bit misty after getting the golden key to the fountain yard from the superintendent, Mr. Shane Williams.

Mr. Williams

Mr. Williams, another rock-solid, clean cut American guy, summed up the essence of the Marine’s visit – and the cemetery staff’s mission as we gathered in his office the next morning. Sitting at his table amidst burial records, letters and WWI reference books, the Superintendent read some of the letters Bethany had brought from home and spoke with us about his work greeting people who visit the cemetery daily.

Mr. Williams shows us the place in the wood where Eben fell

Mr. Williams finds Eben’s burial card in the cemetery catalogue

“We never know what it has taken for someone to get here as we watch them come up the drive to the visitor center.” he says, opening a drawer and pulling out a stack of burial cards from 1918. “For some, this is just a tourist stop en route to other places on their vacation. For others, it is a pilgrimage they’ve spent an entire lifetime planning for. And most will never get here again. Many have family here, or family of someone they know. When we receive a visit from family, we take the time to escort them to the grave. We show our support, care and respect for their loved ones, their final resting places, and their sacrifice.” Hearing the superintendent’s words, I think of the young Marine from the evening before, reverently approaching the ancient fountain with the giant bronze bulldog spout, in order to take the drink that will supposedly add ten years to his life. I suddenly see why every rose bush is perfect, and every marble headstone glows white against the deep green grass. It’s about respect, and gratitude, and perhaps most importantly, remembrance.

Simon Le Cloërec

The beautiful and well-kept gravesites and the chapel on the hillside are a marked contrast to the just as well-kept but considerably more wild woods that lie beyond them on the top of the hill. It is this place where I began my story, standing at the edge of the wood, looking out at the spot where Bethany and Mr. Williams determined Eben fell a final time, the victim of either a rifle or more likely fire from a machine gun nest dug into the trees and boulders behind me. My viewing angle is that of the Germans, not the Allies, but it makes no difference to me in this place carpeted with the traces of unbiased suffering and death. All who were killed here were men and mortal, and imperfect, and loved by someone.

In Belleau Wood

Hiking here in the sun dappled forest under trees that have only been growing for one hundred years – the battle of 1918 destroyed nearly every living thing in the wood – we stumble over the half filled in remains of artillery shell holes, machine gun nests, and zigzag trenches. Here too, I feel the care and upkeep of the men that watch this place, but there is a different type of effort – the monuments are cleaned and roads cleared, but the deep battle scars remain and are easy to find, as if removing them would represent some sort of whitewashing of the bitter truth – that thousands of men just like Eben met horrible, grisly deaths where we stand. I am moved by the worker’s careful care and struck by the profoundly deep emotional silence. There has been nothing on this land for a hundred years, and I can’t help but wonder if another hundred will be even remotely enough time to shed the weight of the blood in this soil.

To be continued…

Continued from Part One

In June 2018, I traveled to Northern France with author Bethany Groff Dorau to document her visit to the Belleau Wood Battlefield and Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. Her trip was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood and the death of US Marine Eben Bradbury, the subject of Dorau’s most recent book. While there, I met and photographed the French and American staff that cares for the graves and the site.

The tabac shop in Belleau after the war and now

The central point of our trip was the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, and we spent nearly every day of our trip there, for a least an hour or two. Located in Belleau Wood, on the site of the battle bearing the same name, Aisne-Marne is one of the sites carefully and respectfully maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, whose permission I needed, in order to take professional photographs, while accompanying Bethany. The ABMC administers, operates, and maintains 26 permanent American military cemeteries and 29 federal memorials, monuments, and markers, which are located in 16 foreign countries.

The WWI monument at Chateau Thierry

After World War I, President Harding, in response to a need for federal control over the commemoration of American armed forces overseas, established the ABMC and made the agency responsible for constructing monuments honoring American Expeditionary Forces. Next, the ABMC constructed memorial chapels in the eight permanent military cemeteries in Europe, which were maintained by the War Department. President Franklin Roosevelt was responsible for the Executive Order that gave the responsibility for managing and maintenance of these solemn grounds to the ABMC.

Normandy Cemetery, beautifully maintained by the ABMC

Once an option for American families who lost a soldier in the war, the military no longer buries soldiers abroad – that ended during the Korean War. Now, the military tries to bring those who die in service back home. But during WWI, 30% of grieving American families chose to let their loved ones be buried in the place where they sacrificed their lives for freedom – not just American freedom, and not even American freedom first. Here, they fought for Frenchmen, to protect Paris, and turn the tide of the war in Europe. Belleau Wood and the Aisne-Marne Cemetery is land that has been given to the United States by France for burial and commemoration.

It is here, in this beautifully maintained cemetery set up against the wood, that Eben rests rather poignantly. His family did not instruct the military to bury him there. In fact, by the time Eben was in his permanent resting place (the clerical and logistical nightmare of locating, identifying and preparing the scattered chaos of dead bodies from the month-long battle took years and multiple temporary burial sites), his family, so heartbroken, frustrated and beaten, could barely bring themselves to think  of the Newburyport boulder with his name on it, much less the far-off wheat field that held his gunshot riddled body. He was interred there because nobody said otherwise. All the more reason for Bethany and I to be fully present, both spiritually and physically, on the important day.

Bethany at one of the temporary gravesites hastily created after the battle

I was absolutely honored and thrilled to be going along to see Eben and take pictures, but my job description still wasn’t entirely clear. During our planning, a delicate question had hung tactfully in the air – as a commercial portrait photographer, I generally take pictures of the living – what was there for me to photograph in the peaceful, but largely unchanging, fields of the dead?

Looking towards Lucy Le Bocage

One thing I can always count on Bethany for is a solution, and this moment was no exception. “You know,” she said thoughtfully, “the men that take care of the cemetery are an interesting bunch. I wonder if you could take some portraits of them?” Visions of cigarette-smoking, weather beaten, salt-of-the-earth Frenchmen in full gardening gear taking care of American WWI graves hit my photographer buttons, and in an instant we had the makings of a proposal. After a few emails were exchanged with Constant Lebastard, Bethany’s contact at the cemetery, and a well-written pitch of mine was approved by the ABMC stateside, I had an additional project for France that supported Bethany’s book and kept me within my own bailiwick. I now got to packing my gear with a real sense of purpose and plan.

Assistant Superintendant Constant Lebastard

All of that assurance stuck with me through the first leg of my trip in Paris, got me to the rental car and through picking up Bethany at the airport, rocketed us East on the A4 (Bethany soon discovered my lead foot speaks French pretty well), and promptly left me as we slowly drove through the iron gates and up the perfectly manicured entryway to the cemetery. It was one of the most beautiful and calm places I’ve ever seen – full of roses and tall sycamores, boxwood hedges and lush grass.  My grizzled and gritty vision of caretakers vanished in an instant and was replaced with complete curiosity over who could possibly keep such intensely perfect grounds.

To be continued…

In June 2018, I traveled to Northern France with author Bethany Groff Dorau to document her visit to the Belleau Wood Battlefield and Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. Her trip was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood and the death of US Marine Eben Bradbury, the subject of Dorau’s most recent book. While there, I met and photographed the French and American staff that cares for the graves and the site. This is part one of a four part series.

I step to the edge of the woods, my heart thumping, and look cautiously out onto the field of ripening wheat. The breeze rustles everything green, and the resulting sound is almost deafening compared to the heavy silence of noontime sun in the summer. The events of this day, in this place, one hundred years ago, still reside in the soil and in the air;  if you pause, you can feel it. At least, I can as I stand here, knees a bit wobbly, my soul vibrating and aching all at once, camera useless by my side, staring. Ghosts of young men are whispering to me, asking me to listen.

Nearly one year before this moment in the woods Bethany had floated the idea to me over a sneaky workday lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant. “Come with me to France”, she said, “and take pictures when I visit Eben again.” It struck me like most fanciful and far off ideas do, interesting in its spontaneous shape, but unlikely to ever become anything more than a thought. Then suddenly, something in the moment whispered, like it did in the field, telling me to simply say yes and sort the details out later. So I did.

A few more weeks and working lunches later, we had flights and rooms and a car in Aisne and seven unscheduled June days, with the exception of one – June 12th. On that day, the 100th anniversary of his death, Bethany would be visiting with Eben Bradbury, a WWI Newburyport Massachusetts Marine buried at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau Wood. She would sit at his grave and read him letters from his father, the ones Eben never got to read himself, as they were sent back from France unopened with ‘Killed in Action’ scrawled in red above his name.

Bethany, a historian and author, and also a Newburyport native, knows a lot about Eben. A lot. Enough to fill the terrific book she’s written about him. She knows the house where he grew up, and the schools he attended. She knows his favorite sport (baseball) and what he liked to do in his spare time (walks with Dad). She knows his nickname, and a bit about his temperament, and much about his relationship with his parents and older sister. She can tell you details about his family’s business and the interesting people he was related to. She also knows about his eventual choice to be a Marine, his training and service in Europe during WWI, how he ended up at Belleau, and how he died there.

The whisper that I heard has been in Bethany’s ear all along, bringing with it an astounding series of fortuitous events, well-timed connections and providences that have helped her understand this nearly-forgotten young man with astounding depth. (You should read the book!) Bethany wrote in 2015: “I had recently completed some research on the Battle of Belleau Wood in France, a 1918 battle famous in the Marine Corps for its terrible death toll and the bravery of its soldiers. Later that day I drove by a memorial stone on Pond Street and really looked at it for the first time. It honors Eben Bradbury, who died on June 12, 1918, at the Battle of Belleau Wood. It was an eerie coincidence, but one that convinced me to find out more about how the war touched Newburyport, and about this young man in particular.”

That was three years ago. Here we were now, in 2018, days before the 100th anniversary, in Northern France on the edge of the Marne River, walking through villages and the driving down the dirt roads where that dreadful battle was fought. We drank every detail in great gulps, minds full of the past and the present all at once separate and then intertwined. The roll of the hills the soldiers marched, the length of the fields they waded through. Bright June days, where a late sunset meant less time under cover of darkness for rest and recon. The feel of the soil underfoot, the height of the wheat, the blood red brightness of poppies and the green of trees. Church bells tolling in the present, reminding us of their use in the past as alarms or calls to action. The farmers using harmless air cannons to drive off crows – and how they sounded like rifles as we stood in the battlefield listening. Thunderstorms that seemed, for all the world, like artillery as they shook the ground. Doves calling incessantly to their mates, as if they feared losing each other in the thick of the wood. Rain. Mud. And bones in the ground…

To be continued…

  • Photographing the Past on a WWI Battlefield Part Two - […] Continued from part one… […]ReplyCancel

  • Ruthie True - Cynthia,
    your words are as moving as your photos !

    Thank you for accompanying Bethany on this momentous journey.

    Just so you know, the far right edge of your blog is cut off as I read it.

    May be just that I opened it from Facebook.

    Thanks again for these incredible photos, and you beautiful, moving words !ReplyCancel

    • cynthia - Hi Ruthie! Thanks so much for your wonderful words. It was a pleasure to travel with B, and the trip was terrific.
      There are some little things with this blog that I hope to fix with my next update (coming soon) – screen responsiveness is one!
      Thanks again for reading and responding!ReplyCancel

Oo! And the commercial portrait photographer is Me!

Thanks to Boston Voyager for the great interview! Portrait photography is always fun to talk about. And you already know I love magazines!

You can check the Boston Voyager article out HERE

This interview makes me realize I think a LOT about taking portraits and business photographs. Maybe more than most photographers. I think I spend so much time planning so that the actual photoshoot goes effortlessly, and that we can make changes during the picture-taking with ease and confidence. Doing your research makes you well-equipped to handle whatever may happen in the moment.

But wow it still makes me sound like a HUGE photo and story nerd. Can’t help it!

Here are a few pictures and words from the very long article…

We are the rockstar heroes of our life’s journey. Really, I swear. You know that awesome picture of yourself that you held in your heart as a kid? The one where you were a superhero, or maybe royalty, or some wild un-tame-able spirit. Maybe a wolf. Or a butterfly. Or president. Take a second and try to remember the way it made you feel. Remember the story you wove around it, how you made yourself the hero and the way you saved the entire world right before you got called into dinner?

I LOVE that story. I love it in my subjects, and I love it in me. I’ve spent my entire life exploring it, from childhood when I would construct entire environments (and costumes) for my friends to play in, then in my years analyzing scripts as a professional costume and set designer, and in my current life as a commercial, editorial, and fine art portrait photographer. I’m obsessed. Here’s why – I think that powerful story jump starts our passions, sticks with us as we move into adulthood, and drives the genuine, authentic heart of what we ultimately choose to do with our lives.



For most businesses, it is a buyer’s market, and we don’t convert sales the way we used to. At all. Our websites are our storefronts, and the main page is the shop window. The portraits we use are what our potential clients see when they come up to the virtual counter.

The one thing that a business person has that sets them apart from their competitors is their individual view on their business and the world, their mission and purpose, which has a foundation in that first hero story. When we go beyond the “good photograph” and create the fantastic photograph, the dynamic photograph, the storytelling photograph that radiates with a person’s positive intention and energy, it connects on a higher level.

The subject’s unique character and strengths invite a closer look. It doesn’t matter the profession – I’ve photographed some terrifically charismatic dry cleaners. If you love what you do, it shows. The stories that inspire us, light us from within. And great photography is about capturing the light.


I appreciate the chance to talk about my work. To check out some of the other interviews, head to

I have a little sign on my desk that I love. Here’s a photograph of it:


(It is also a photograph of my Lensball – if you don’t have one, get one! Seriously, coolest thing.)

I wrote it many years ago right after a terrific portrait session, and it has remained forever true. I really do love taking pictures for the people I work for, documenting their passionate pursuit of their work, the way they believe in what they do, and their commitment to giving. They light up when talking about their goals, and I love helping them show the world their strengths.

That’s why I had such a blast visiting one of my most inspiring clients, Lisa Cantalupo, in her New Hampshire studio last month in order to photograph her story for Boston Voyager magazine.

Lisa in her studio

Lisa’s Article in Boston Voyager

Lisa, in a word, is cool. Not in that trendy, hip, flash-in-the-pan way (although she does make pretty big splashes with her designs), but as a designer who has been tirelessly honing her craft for years and has never rested on her laurels. Her leatherwork is intricate, of the highest quality and perpetually stylish. Her spirit is unflappable and positive but pragmatic. And she’s a survivor. I won’t re-write the Boston Voyager article, you can read that for yourself, but if I had to sum things up I would say that the road has been challenging, as it is for many entrepreneurs who are also single parents. Lisa has maintained a commitment to her family AND her work that is really inspiring. And it has paid off.

Hanging with Lisa is always fun, too – and that is definitely a part of why she’s successful. Her happy energy immediately gets you into a comfortable place – with your life, yourself – so much so that you find yourself looking at one of her gorgeous and daring pieces and envisioning yourself in it. Then you try it, and what can I say? Magic. So spending a day roaming around her workspace with camera in hand, both of us laughing and even talking about the down and dirty aspects of making a go of a business in a buoyant manner was truly nourishing.

Witnessing the energy that makes a business successful and then capturing its essence in photographs is the heart of what I do. I shoot what I see. (The filters that exist on the images come from the spirit of the business, not Instagram, thank you very much!) Here are some of the images from our day.



  • Lisa Cantalupo - Dang it woman! You have me in tears – yet again! I so do appreciate and adore you! Everyone should be so lucky to have you as a friend. Thank God they can hire you! Really. SERIOUSLY! they should… Be tearing down what they have to in order to be on the other side of your lens. Worth every second and every dollar. Love you!ReplyCancel