Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cancer Uncovered

Most of you are familiar with my Dancers Among Us series, but it is actually the second series that I've done. Over six years, I photographed over a hundred women bare-breasted in New York City. They varied in terms of age, education and profession. Every one was a volunteer. Every subject faced reactions to her decision to defy convention, and many confronted feelings of shame and inadequacy. But after the shoots, the women were unexpectedly euphoric—and I wondered just what I had uncovered.
Many of the women agreed to interviews or to write their own texts for my book, Uncovered, and below are some excerpts. Though the book does not focus primarily on breast cancer, many of the participants had suffered from this terrible disease. I am humbled and honored that they trusted me to share their bodies and stories with the world.


"When I heard that I had breast cancer, I thought, 'I would rather be dead than lose a breast.'"


"When your boobs are as big as mine, they're like an extra pair of arms.

"When I saw this picture, my eyes went immediately from my boobs to the mole on my right shoulder. I had never noticed it before. I decided the next time I went to the doctor, I'd have it looked at. I did. I was diagnosed with a melanoma that was growing very fast. Had I not taken part in the project, I would simply never have noticed. I was treated in time, and there is no doubt in my mind that this picture saved my life."


"I was photographed on Broadway, two days before a double mastectomy."

In the book I never comment on anyone's text, but I have to share this story about Karen. She took a train from Philadelphia to NYC to be photographed for Uncovered. She arrived on Sunday afternoon, and Tuesday morning she was scheduled for a double mastectomy. She had lost her entire family to various forms of cancer, and she did not seem confident that she would have a long life herself. She seemed resigned to her fate, and accepting of it. When she took off her shirt on a crowded corner, she started to dance and play. She was celebrating her body, and her joy was contagious. People were cheering and smiling and rooting her on. She was shirtless for five minutes before the police asked her to stop. This is the final image I shot of Karen. I never heard from her again.


"The fact that I had breast cancer was not going to stop me from doing the things I liked to do. I realized how many women were out there, their lives ruined because of this. Your life doesn't have to be ruined. I'm proof that it doesn't have to be.

"I was on for a while and I met this man, an attorney. We met one night for wine, had a nice time and decided to see each other again. The second date was a week later and we met for martinis and appetizers. Sounds nice, doesn't it?

Afterward, he embraced me, giving me one of those lip-lock kisses, and then he said, 'Let's go back to my loft.' I said, 'There's something I need to tell you. I'm a breast cancer survivor.' And he backed up like I had leprosy. He said, 'You had a mastectomy?' And I said, 'I had reconstructive surgery.' Then he said, 'You may think this is shallow of me, but I'm into beautiful breasts.' I said, 'My breasts are beautiful.' He said, 'This is too much. I can't take this.' So I said, 'You're 55? I would prefer you to be 45 with a full head of hair. I had breast cancer. You have a daughter. You might find yourself wearing one of those pink bows to support her one day. She might tell you a story about a man treating her the way you just treated me. And by the way, the same risk statistics apply to men for prostrate cancer! Sometimes the only way to save a man's life when he has prostate cancer is... should I spell it out for you?'"