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the brutiful life project

Dan and I started The Brutiful Life Project two years ago when our heartstrings were pulled for some families we knew that were battling life-threatening illnesses. With the risk of losing a loved one, having a photo session of the family together seemed like a no-brainer.

It’s hard (and seems taboo) to talk about it, but we kept thinking: what if…. What if he dies? Those images capturing their good memories together might just be the most treasured thing that’s left behind. Or what if: What if in some minuscule way we can help him live…. What if capturing these precious moments of the family together would give the person just enough hope and courage to fight through this. And what if: What if, if nothing else, we give the family an hour-long break. A break from medicine. A break from doctors. And hospitals. And needles. And chemo. A break from the brutal time they’ve had fighting this — disease — or house fire — or whatever it is they’re battling. What if we could bring some “beautiful” back into a life that seemed full of “brutal”.

There was one problem in these families hiring us: with all of the medical bills and hospital visits, they couldn’t afford it.

And so The Brutiful Life Project was born.

It wasn’t called The Brutiful Life Project two years ago. In fact, although we’ve talked and daydreamed and toyed around with ideas and terms for this “thing” we wanted to do, we didn’t really nail down a name for it at all until today.

Over the last year I’ve been reading a book and blog from Author Glennon Doyle Melton. She talks a lot about how life can be brutal and it can be beautiful and usually those two go hand in hand. “Life is Brutiful” she says. She’s uplifting and inspiring and loving and all things giving. Our goal was to bring some beauty into something brutal…. and so “The Brutiful Life Project” seemed like the perfect name for our cause. If you haven’t picked up Melton’s book Carry On, Warrior (found here: at Amazon), I recommend it. She also writes a life-changing blog that you can read here: Momastery.


Over the last two years we’ve had the opportunity to photograph several families as part of this program and we’ve gifted the sessions — a break from the brutal — and digital images — beautiful memories — to the families at no cost to them. We’d like to be able to give this gift to more people, so we’ve opened one session per month to give to a family that is chosen for The Brutiful Life Project. I’m working on an official application that can be filled out and submitted to us if you know a family in need of this gift. In the meantime, if you’d like to nominate a family, please email Brooke at brooke@brandphotodesign.com. We will choose one qualifying family per month in the hope that we can share some beauty during what feels like a brutal journey in life….

We’ll be posting some images from our most recent recipient of The Brutiful Life Project soon, and until then, I wanted to post some of the previous families who have received this much needed and deserved gift.


“Almost 6 years ago, on the back patio of their aunt’s house, we photographed a beautiful wedding ceremony of two people who touched our lives by the faith, hope, and love they shared. Amanda and Adam were married in 2005 and a few years later they welcomed a beautiful baby boy into their family named Elias. He was the spunky, giggly toddler they’d always hoped for, bringing joy to their lives with his curly blond hair, sly smile, and life-size personality.

All in the world seemed right, and we were excited to hear from Amanda when she announced they were expecting their second child and would love to do family photos with us. However, last September, three months before welcoming their second child into the world, Elias was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare, but treatable cancer. Their world stopped in an instant and the expense and exhaustion of the hospital stays, the tears, and the frustration must have consumed them — but they have remained full of faith, full of hope, and full of love. Their need to hold off on doing family photos because of the cancer inspired us to do something for them, and for others in the future.” -Brooke Brand



In 2012 our local community had a fundraiser for friend and dad Joe Duncan who had been fighting a cancerous tumor in his brain. The treatments along with his inability to work were taking a toll on the family, financially and emotionally. A friend of ours reached out to us to sponsor the fundraiser. We did, and we also made them a part of our Brutiful Life Project. This was his wife’s response:

“Good Afternoon Brooke! I’d like to be formal and “proper”, but I’ll give you my truest reaction after just reading your message: ”HOLY COW!!!! How incredibly crazy is this?!?!? What an amazing gift!!! HOLY COW!!!” I shouted again! Oh, wow!!! Thank you for your kindness, support and generosity!!! We are truly humbled by your support and willingness to share your outstanding talents with our family. Thank you. You may never truly know how deeply we appreciate your pure love and support. Joe’s chemotherapy runs the first week of each month thru December, so the third and fourth weeks of the month will work best for him to be up for a photo experience. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you once again. We are so humbled.”



When met the Goerges family, it didn’t take long to realize they were very special. After they found out their beautiful first-born, Abigail, had incurable Mitochondrial Disease, they adopted three other spunky and wonderful children. As defined by mitoaction.org, mitochondrial disease is “an inherited chronic illness that can be present at birth or develop later in life. It causes debilitating physical, developmental, and mental disabilities with symptoms including poor growth; loss of muscle coordination; muscle weakness and pain; seizures; vision and/or hearing loss; gastrointestinal issues; learning disabilities; and organ failure. It’s progressive and there is no cure.”

Many children don’t live to see a second or third birthday. As her mom describes her at the age of 13, “She amazes me everyday. She doesn’t sit around and complain about the pain she has daily, she’s too busy living life. She doesn’t complain that every time she sees a doctor, they add a new diagnosis without treatment. She just wants to have fun. Many days I just want to sit and cry about the horrible progression of this disease called mito, but I look at my brave daughter, and she shows me that there isn’t time for that. She has too much to accomplish.”

In 2012 her health had deteriorated and in the midst of many many (MANY) hospital stays, frightening moments, and sheer exhaustion, we immediately called to invite them to be in our Brutiful Life Project. Recently when looking through the photos, Abi’s mom shared with me, ”That was such a special day for us! John and I were so frazzled and exhausted. We had just had a delivery guy show up and deliver her feeding pump in the middle of trying to get four kids ready. I was in tears over the added equipment up until we reached your studio, but I couldn’t stop smiling once we got there. You made us all look so beautiful! I was reminded of the beauty in the midst of such sadness. Your pictures are such a special gift!”


Life can be so brutal. We look forward to bringing more beautiful moments to special families….

Welcome, The Brutiful Life Project.