Though the Christmas and New Year holidays are almost definitely clouding most people’s ability to think beyond the next week or so, I’m sure you guys remember that October 2010 was breast cancer awareness month. We raised awareness here on Zelda Lily and, here in the UK, fundraising events took place and pink ribbons were abundantly in evidence. But, over in New York City, black-and-white posters advertising the SCAR Project were presenting an altogether more honest and authentic picture of breast cancer. The posters featured a pregnant woman with a large surgical scar over the right half of her chest – the place where her right breast would once have been. The copy underneath the image read ‘Breast Cancer is Not a Pink Ribbon.’ The poster, even as I …
SCAR stands for ‘Surviving Cancer, Absolute Reality,’ and the SCAR Project is a series of large-scale black-and-white portraits of young breast cancer survivors, shot by fashion photographer David Jay. According to the project’s website:
‘The SCAR Project puts a raw, unflinching face on early onset breast cancer while paying tribute to the courage and spirit of so many brave young women.’
The website also notes that the images that form the SCAR Project are dedicated to the more than 10,000 women under the age of 40 who will be diagnosed this year alone, and that the project was developed as a tribute to a friend of Jay’s, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 32 and inspired him to photograph her and other survivors.
In each of the photographic portraits, which are all of women between the ages of 18 and 35 and of which there are now almost 100, the subject is topless. The portraits are sad, and shocking – not because of the way that breasts are sexualised in society, but because the images touch upon how much (I think) we as a society tend to hide and/or ‘tidy up’ disease – we just don’t tend to think about or realise that women are walking around with scars like these under their shirts. The cute pink ribbons that have come to symbolise the fight against breast cancer don’t show you this – they’re sterile, inoffensive, not difficult to look at.
The aim of the SCAR Project is tri-fold – to raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer, to raise funds for breast cancer research and awareness, and to help survivors to see their experiences and scars through an ‘honest… and ultimately empowering lens.’ Jay has spoken about the impact of the SCAR Project on an individual level, saying that:
‘For these young women, having their portrait taken seems to represent their personal victory over this terrifying disease. It helps them reclaim their femininity, their sexuality, identity and power after having been robbed of such an important part of it. Through these simple pictures, they seem to gain some acceptance of what has happened to them and the strength to move forward with pride.’
For all the portraits of the SCAR Project are shocking and sad, they are also incredibly beautiful and powerful – and their raising awareness can only be a good thing. The images challenge traditional perceptions of breast cancer and each of them provides a raw portrait of a strong and beautiful young woman and her individual character. Though the portraits and women captured in them are different, they are each tied by the one thing that unites them all – the experience of breast cancer. And that, I think, makes quite an impact.