It’s Here!

There’s no going back now! The Fox Egg Gallery is now filled with the images of incredible women. Amazing sights and sounds are cued up. And the day of a brand new conversation has arrived. Here’s a picture of the controlled chaos leading up to the event.


It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and that’s important. But it doesn’t mean much if we don’t have, well…awareness. Pink is pretty, but wearing a ribbon doesn’t save lives. Early detection does.

Wearing ribbons in solidarity is a great gesture, but it doesn’t mean much if we’re not aggressively supportive of the women and men in our lives who are struggling with an illness that is at best frightening, and at worst life-threatening.

We need to be taking care of ourselves, our mothers, our sisters, our friends. We need to be reminding the men in our lives that they, too, can get breast cancer–they should be doing exams, as well. We need to stop being afraid of saying the wrong thing, and start simply reaching out with kindness. We hope that tonight, the courage and openness of our amazing models and friends will help us all to better understand this cancer that affects us all.

Here’s our schedule:

5:00-We begin! Hang out, see some art, have a snack. You know. You’ll hear a soundtrack. Listen carefully: it’s an original score by Ryan Paul and Corey Eischen of Sleep Study, written in honor of this year’s amazing survivors. In the background, you’ll hear the verses of a family deeply affected by breast cancer and incredibly proud of their survivor mom/wife. While you’re listening, please don’t look at me. It makes me weep, without fail.

6:30-Diedrich Weiss plays a gorgeous song he wrote, called “Wounds to Scars.” Pretty much, it’s perfect.

7:00-The incomparable Colleen, one of last year’s models, gives a presentation about how she works to preserve her legacy, and offers insight into how you can share your own.

8:00-Brianna Lane will play a set to wrap up the evening. If you’ve never heard her play, it’s worth coming just to see her. Of course, it’s worth coming just to see the art. Or just to hear Diedrich. Or just to hear the poetry and musical soundtrack.

Or just…come on in. We’ll bear hug your face.


When we began this project one year ago, I hoped with all my heart that we would be able to create a project with universal resonance. I knew it was a challenge.

Breast cancer is a disease that is both individual and universal. It hurts as as woman, and it hurts us as women. It changes the lives of men and children, mothers and sisters. It is everywhere. It is a secret.

My collaborator, the photographic genius that is Elli Rader, spent countless hours discussing with me what cancer means. We’ve talked about why it affects us all, and how it affects us each. We knew that exploring breast  cancer was a task for which we were under-qualified. We decided to try it anyway. Because of our models and our readers, we learn more and more every day about survival. We strive to capture what that means in art. We hope we do it justice.

Yesterday, we got the news that a photograph born of this project has been selected for display in an incredible project. Woman as Photographer, as explored by the Minneapolis Photo Center in cooperation with some of the most amazing women in the Twin Cities’ art scene, has selected a photograph of Elli’s for display in an upcoming exhibit that seeks to explore the artistry of women who speak to women.

I am so proud of Elli for her fearlessness as she explores the artist within herself. I am even more proud of Elli for the artistry she unlocks in her subjects, and for the truths that she shares with those who see her work.

I’m proud to be her friend, to be her partner in this project, and to collaborate with her as we seek to share your stories. Thanks to all of you who have helped Of Scars to reach an ever-broader audience. We can’t thank you enough for helping us to find and to share the beauty of survival. Your stories are what makes this project resonate with survivors and those who love them.

I’m proud of you, too.


Through the magic of Twitter, I was directed to a link for the 007 Breasts Web Site, a fascinating little project that explores the American psyche in regard to breasts.

It’s a challenging look at the taboo of breasts in our daily lives, and its message works very well in partnership with our own. There are lots of issues that factor in to how our culture deals with breast cancer, but chief among them is the issue of body taboos: If unaltered, biological breasts are “sinful”, even when breast-feed a baby, how are we  supposed to discuss and process what happens to them if cancer changes them? If “normal”, healthy breasts don’t look like a media ideal before a lumpectomy or mastectomy, how are we supposed to embrace their beauty in a new form?

It all boils down to the incredibly complex interaction between our media-saturated culture and our collective body image.

“Normal” breasts are as unique as the individual who “wears” them, and the 007 Breasts site contains page after page of non-sexual, galleries filled with images of  normal, actual breasts–and a few images of breasts with unusual histories, as well. Check out the site, and ask yourself how these images differ from the breasts you see on billboards, in magazines, and on television. Would your body image be different if you’d been raised to think of breasts like these as normal, as opposed to those you see in advertising?

Recommended Reading

In this morning’s Huffington Post, author Lea Lane has written a touching and wonderful ode to her own scars. Definitely worth the read.

In the piece, Lane points out that for her, the scars that nobody sees are the hardest ones to heal. I suspect that statement would be true for many of us.

In that spirit, I offer a challenge to all of us today. What can you do, right now, to honor and care for the most painful parts of yourself?

Be gentle with yourself today. Take a bit of extra care. And know that you’re not alone.

Rock the Mic

Just in case you missed Elli and Kate talking about Of Scars on KFAI this afternoon, you can stream the show from here–just click on the live streaming links midway down the page. Special thanks to Ellen Stanley for having us on!

Beauty, Actually

From day one, the primary goal of this project has been to begin a new kind of conversation about cancer and survival. The discussions that have grown from Of Scars have led us to challenge our culture’s views on illness, recovery and beauty.

For the last two months, photographer Elizabeth Barnwell has generously donated her time and talent to Of Scars. Recently, I asked Elizabeth to send me a few thoughts on why she’d gotten involved in the project, and what she’d learned as a result. Below, you’ll find her very eloquent response.

My children have been bringing home scads of papers and forms from the first weeks of back to school, but one annual packet flat out disturbed me this year.

It’s the school picture order form.

Same fugly background colors and stiff poses as in years past, but in step 3 of the ordering process, this year I notice the form suggests that you “add retouching”.

The “Premium” package “whitens teeth, evens skin tone and removes blemishes, scars and fly-away hair”, but “does not remove braces, moles or glass glare” and costs a mere $12.

So I guess my 7-year-old might need retouching. What if he cuts his own hair on school picture day? I guess that could be fixed and nobody would ever know. Maybe we’d eventually forget that it ever happened.

Somehow this option, this “gift” of technology, makes me want to cry and scream and mourn for future generations that see only photo perfect versions of their parents and grandparents.  Somehow, suddenly, photography isn’t about recording a moment or revealing a truth, but rather hiding our true nature and experiences…and why?  Isn’t the implied message that we’re not good enough the way we are?  Should we really aspire to the level of perfection worthy of a magazine?

What about simply being perfect to the ones who love us, owning our life lessons and experiences, and leaving tangible evidence of ourselves for future reference and inspiration?  My favorite photographs from my family history are those that inspire a story and include a lesson and help me remember where I came from. These photographs are dear and awkward and some of them are uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t change a thing.  I don’t want my past perfected or erased. That would invalidate who I am today.

I am a photographer with all sorts of technology at my disposal.  I tell stories with images. For me, the power of the images for the present and the future lies in the truthful nature of the process.

This notion is uber-important as it relates to my work photographing breast cancer survivors for Of Scars. I have been working with Kate and Elli for about 2 months, so my visual and conversational research is still new, but I am finding some common themes that feel like truth: cancer is scary, fighting and surviving a life threatening disease is beastly hard, and yet the women I have had the honor to meet have told me that fighting and surviving breast cancer has made their lives better and richer and more precious.  These truths feel like hope anyone could benefit from.  The images I am trying to make as an artist and a human must convey these profound truths and secrets to living well.  Therefore, I am declaring this work certified organic, natural and free of retouching.  The truth, beauty and love in the photographs is real and it is believable because it flies defiantly in the face of a commercial vision of beauty–we’re not trying to sell you anything.

It feels crucial to me that the awe-inspiring wisdom and human truth that survivors have earned and created and found in surprising ways be made available to the most important audience for this work; women and men diagnosed, fighting or surviving breast cancer and those close to them.

I’ve heard several times that being a breast cancer survivor is like belonging to a club that nobody wants to be a member of, but that once you’re a member you’ll find friends and inspirational people you might never have otherwise crossed paths with.  For Julie, Lori and Bridget–the women I have photographed thus far–this work is for you, of you and inspired by you.

It is all you.

Your stories are already written on your bodies and in your eyes and they are powerful and divine.

This work is going to be your life-after-cancer yearbook, and your education and accomplishments are going to create a positive ripple effect beyond what any of us can imagine right now.

Everybody else: hold onto your desks, school is in session.

Elizabeth Barnwell is a Minneapolis-based photographer with a great big heart and a sense of adventure. See more of her work at

One Newsflash, One Question, One Reminder

NEWSFLASH: Four amazing Of Scars models stopped by for brunch, chatting and video-taking. We’ll have some really fun stuff to show you soon.

QUESTION: I’ll tell you what I think in an upcoming post, but I’m wondering what you think about this Men’s Health article. It says women “approve” of these “respectful and honest” secrets about breasts, but I have to wonder: What do stories like this tell us about our value as whole people? Do stories like this over-emphasize the importance of breasts? Or are breasts really that important to women and men?

REMINDER: Party’s almost here. October 1st. We’ll see you there, right?

Amazing Quote of the Day

Occasionally, someone will approach us and say something like, “I like what you’re doing. But what about the women who don’t survive?”

Today we had a beautiful and profound photo shoot that left both elli and I slack-jawed and dumbstruck with its intensity. During the course of the shoot, I heard this striking quote:

After you’re diagnosed, you are a survivor. Every day that you are alive, you are a survivor. It’s that simple.”

As we reach deeper into our celebration of survival, I wanted to take a minute to honor the survivors who are no longer with us. Thanks for what you taught us, when you were here.