See, in October of 2000 I photographed these two so they could select a portrait of the two of them, since one of them was moving north (not North, still south of the Mason-Dixon). Best of friends, wanted to keep a particular connection thing. We all thought the session a lot of fun, and several good portraits came out of the time spent together. Now, the kicker is, most of the portraits are nude. Not all of them, but most.
Then, on the way home from that session and listening to NPR over the car radio, I heard the announcement, "October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month." Well, Duh, said I to Myself, I know that.
And Myself replied, Yanno, you should of asked marjai to do some breast self-examination photos. She'd of done it. Think about Cher.
See, my friend Cher, she'd asked me to teach her photography. She wanted to knock peoples socks off when she showed them her vacation photos. Just that; not be a world-famous photographer, just really wow all her friends. And we did that thing, and she started to get better and really excited about it. She called me up once and said, "You got to see the newest photos. They are really, really great. Oh, by the way, I found a lump in my breast, what's next."
Making a long story short, what's next included me learning some very important lessons about being a Nurse, and Cher dying of breast cancer. Young. In her 30's. And then inheriting the camera she'd purchased when she started getting good enough to justify it to herself (her family insisted). And me, starting to get very interested in the whole topic of breast cancer. Which interest began to escalate on that afternoon in October 2000.
Because I started meditating about that little thought, ask marjai to do some self-exam photos. Not as a teaching tool; lord knows there's enough of those out there, don't need to make another. Do it as a portrait, going back to the root of that word, portray, portrayal, and make a representation of the person who simply happens to be doing a self-exam.
Yes, marjai and I made that portrait later that year. The concept, though, kept gestating in my artist head (as those of you on my flist who are artists know such things do) and grew:
Do a series of portraits of people doing breast self-examination.
Do the prints as numbered, limited edition signed prints (I do generally sign all my work anyway).
Send my portion of the proceeds to some breast cancer fund (models for nude work are paid, and if/when I sell prints of those pieces the models receive a share of the sale... something I learned from one Zoe Wiseman of Community Zoe).
And, give time to think about it, include survivors, although not necessarily doing self-exam (some still need to, some don't, and all provide another wealth of exploration into portraiture).
So, over time this grew. I've photographed nine people so far. I've one set of prints ready to go. I also started doing a public presentation (for Nurses, it has Continuing Education objectives so can award CE, for non-Nurses a variation looks mostly at the art project aspect) about the project. And, I've kind of stalled on it. Other concerns, and the reality of expenses for generating that series of numbered, signed, limited editions, and stubbornness on my part that I was going to by God fund the project... all combined.
Now it's October. Seven years later. Still National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I've seen some entries here and a lot more over on Flickr. Sat back and started to think about a few things. Like, my Friends List. (OK, that's LJ's name for it. Sometimes I think of it that way, sometimes as my Reading List. There's a number of people on my List that I know in the Einsteinian Universe, and very few I wouldn't want to meet...). So, let's take a look at that. Now, statistics are rather impersonal; they're supposed to be. They only look at populations, not individuals, so I'm not identifying any of these people, just listing the numbers.
People on LJ Friends List: 64 (I've eliminated duplicate journals for whatever reason, and LJ's which people created for fictional or anthropomorphised characters)
People on LJ Friends List who took part in Project: 3
People on LJ Friends List who knew Cher: 5
People on LJ Friends List actively dealing with BC: 3
And folks, even though the statistics on the disease are improving in terms of survival and longevity, those same statistics are pretty much going to indicate that if you look at your own LJ Flist, you're going to come up with pretty close to the same figures. Other, of course, than people taking part in the Project. Breast cancer's still pretty common. Still.
Through another set of connections, this one within AORN (Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, my professional association), one of my colleagues there suggested to the news department of AORN that they might want to feature this little story in a monthly 'Members Making a Difference' column. You can find it here, for the rest of the month: AORN Story: Member Making a Difference (I may need to post the text after the story expires. We'll see.)
Thing is, as I mentioned I feel stalled, I wonder how much of a difference I've made.
Here's one of the images in the Project. Since it's part of the user agreement, I'm supposed to tell you it's over on my Flickr.
Yes, her face is obscured, and only partially to help preserve her anonymity: it's meant to represent all and everyone who can claim to be what the sign in the background declares. Incidentally, she's a Registered Nurse as well (one of the reasons to help preserve her anonymity), and when she got home from doing this session found a message from her GP about a lump in her breast. The news is good, it was benign. But that bit of extra did tip me for the title on this one. She's a trouper, too, because we made this image about 05:45 on a March morning in Grant Park, Chicago, right along the shoreline of Lake Michigan on a morning after it snowed the night before.
So ladies, get your tata's checked. Yes, it's uncomfortable and possibly embarrassing. And a whole lot less of a hassle than finding out late.