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?
last month salon owner Jon Clifford of Accolades Salon/Spa invited the women who have participated in some of our shoots to come in for a day of pampering and dress ups. later that night they hit the stage at a hair show to represent his salon and our project, and to celebrate their beauty and strength.
the ladies got two standing ovations and absolutely lit up the stage. head over to our facebook page to see the photos, and while there please give us some Like.
in other news, we want to give you a head’s up that next week we will show you some exclusive photos and information from our Oct 1st exhibit for those of you who weren’t able to make it that night, or who were there but didn’t have access to it via QR readers, or who just want to see it again! we will take those pages live for a week, and then take them back down again, so watch for it.
thanks, as always, for your support!
it really does seem that asking people to look at the beauty of physical scars helps them to see the value of, and bring to the surface, their emotional scars. i believe that when you bring them to the surface, they are easier to deal with–whether you “deal with” them by fixing them, understanding them better, or merely learning to accept them.
there are so many ways to heal.
just a couple of months after launching this website and beginning this project, a friend of ours was diagnosed with breast cancer. i told her about what we were doing and that we are here for her if she needed to talk. she responded that after reading the site, she felt so much less alone. in that moment i felt that we had achieved any goals we ever set out to accomplish. we had made at least *one* person feel less alone, and more understood.
in the short week since our opening exhibit and discussion that took place on oct. 1, we have been responding to a humbling amount of new messages, feedback, interest, and support for our project. as big as it felt to us in the moment, we know it was just the start of a long and wonderful journey.
we are so grateful for all those who came to the event with open hearts, compassion, honesty, and support. we have been watching as some of you have connected, and we couldn’t be happier about it. we wanted so much for the night to be not only powerful and emotional, but hopeful. not sad. honest. engaging. i feel it was all those things, and the feedback i’ve gotten since oct. 1st is that many of you feel the same. what made it so in my eyes was a convergence of intelligent and loving people who came together to create a safe space for healing to exist. people were honest with each other, open. giving. the response i’ve gotten over and over is: it was so HONEST.
i want to thank every single one of you who made it to our event, and to those who volunteered and sponsored the night – you made it what it was and we are grateful indeed.
we now have sheets and sheets of paper with new ideas for what is next, and we will keep you informed as we plan it out. for now, i just wanted to say thank you, with all my heart.
there will be so much more, and we hope you are all there with us.
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 www.ElizabethBarnwell.com.
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?
hi! we’ve been handing out postcards about our celebration on october 1st and we hope you can make it – we’re organizing a great night of discussion, photography, food, drinks and music.
we are so excited to dig deeper into the stories and images of what we’ve been doing all these months, and we hope you have set aside the evening to join us.
the event will be held at 110 N. 3rd street in downtown minneapolis, next door to the 112 eatery. this is a private loft, the studio of Carter Averbeck and Trompe Decorative Finishes. you will need to check in with a door person to get in, but please know that it is open to the public with or without a paper invitation. We will be accepting donations at the door. We will accept checks, cash and credit cards (we will have a laptop and a helper to put credit card donations through online.)
The evening will start at 6 pm with viewing of the photographs, QR links to the stories and more images of the survivors we have photographed, and music by DJ Joseph Pettini. We will also be featuring a panel discussion hosted by Jeff Kamin, creator and moderator of Books and Bars. One of the panelists is Kevyn Burger, a wonderful woman who very publicly went through the discovery and treatment of breast cancer. Following the discussion there will be a brief Q & A session with Of Scars founders Kate Kunkel and elli rader, and a set of live music by Venus de Mars.
Please tell everyone you know about this event!