With it being breast cancer month, I wanted to create a photo series with amazing, fighting, brave women, who have been through this struggle, or is still going through it.
I as photographer, wanted to create a project, around the theme of breast cancer, which is usually celebrated in October. I wanted to create, really create. And breast cancer month is usually very pink in colour. So my idea was to not have the same stereotypical shoot, as always, but to create something that is a little different, have a different meaning and symbolism, and look a little different. I have also spoken to some of these women, and did not want to show them in a light of people needing to feel pity on them. They are the strongest of the strong, and they still raise their children, go to work, and face life. I wanted to give them a glamour moment, have them feel for a moment what fashion models felt like with stunning make-up, studio lights, and a feeling of them being appreciated.
I started making headpieces. Before I even knew the women, I had begin to make my headpieces, each with a different look, and with a different symbolism. They were handmade from scratch, each flower glued and cut, and perspex add-on’s were made to bring out the symbolism in each. The whole shoot was again shot on my Fujifilm system, after it’s success with my Iconic Women series done in February, and March.
A tree was used for Gerdie, as I saw when I met her, and started talking to her, that she has a great wisdom, and tress have this wonderful way of standing strong in wind and weather. Each delicate little leaf was pasted on the three trees, and in all of the headpieces, different shades of pinks were used in support of breast cancer’s look and theme.
Gerdie was also kind enough to offer her house for the first shoot, and we had such a great time, where the women could bond, and they didn’t even know each other – but walked out of there, friends.
Birds were used for Dinkie. Dinkie is an educated doctor. Whenever I spoke to her she had this light and airy way about her, and her messages were always friendly. She made me think of a bird, and birds too, soars high above the rest, and also withstand heavy weather well.
Ocean waves and elements were used for Raynolda. Raynolda has had three different cancers – ovarian-, cervical-, and some breast cancer and have fought them all. Raynolda is also part of the amazing cancer association Cancervive, their CEO being former South African TV-presenter Janie du Plessis. Raynolda goes with Cancervive’s team to many schools, and rural areas, to educate people on what cancer is and isn’t, and tries to help break the stigma amongst black people, that cancer is only a white people illness. Many black people do not seek a doctor early enough because of this stigma, and at a point when they do, it is many times too late. The ocean sometimes can be rough and it can be calm, and it can bring peace and it can also destroy, and that is what these women have told me their cancer battle is most times. Janie also personally messaged me , and said that I am welcome to use Cancervive’s logo, as support from them, for my project in aid of cancer awareness.
A gazelle was used for Sonja. Sonja is currently still received chemo and radiation. She is in remission but she is getting treatment to try and prevent any cancer from coming back, Sonja has had reconstruction on one breast as she had had a mastectomy on her right breast. A gazelle I find graceful and with fine features, which is what Sonja exactly is.
Leanie bravely bared her chest, as she has had a double mastectomy and have not had reconstruction yet. Leanie has an amazing story, with having almost been written off by doctors, confined to a wheelchair for many months, and have quite a couple of scars because of where the cancer has spread and what it has done to her body. She has an amazing character, and I used a tiger for her, to show power and strength.
I also approached a lovely woman called Isabelle Lotter, who owns a clothing label called Sies! Isabelle, and she does stuff for SA Fashion week. Isabelle made me some pieces in a week’s time, was very willing to help as she mentioned cancer affects is all, and she also has aunts and a grandmother who have had cancer, or has been affected by it. Isabelle gave me pieces from her own line, as well as constructing some raw silk pieces, which also represented their own symbolism. She made them each with a bit of a cape, as she mentioned, she feels these women are like superheroes. Isabelle was a big player in the success of this shoot, as she added to the lovely soft, but still raw styling, and I loved the look of her silk, and pieces with texture such as the wool, and cotton strings.
I also approached some of the best make-up artists I know, to add to the look of these women for their own glamour moment, and they were able to delve in some pinks and transform these ladies into something spectacular. Sam Scarborough was a star, Maureen Grobler also helped, as well as Cicilia Kaufmann, all three women known within the industry for great bridal-, editorial-, fashion- and creative make-up.
The shoots with these women really changed me, I didn’t walk out of there the same person. I learned how many small things are not significant and that you shouldn’t even bother about them. These women have been through amazing struggles, and talking to each of them teaches you a lot about cancer, what to expect, diagnosis, different types of it, treatment, how to handle life at your worst, and how to still keep your dignity when you perhaps have no more breasts, or hair and lashes and eyebrows. I was humbled by all of it, and I really wanted to honour them by giving them an amazing shoot, with my contribution, of making them each a headpiece, and giving them their visual identity within their own individual shot and within my project, and what I wanted it to look like.
The project does has a name, called “For Maggie & for Sunette”.
Maggie was my father’s mother, whom he lost at 28 due to breast cancer. My grandfather also had intestinal cancer so it was a part of our family, and my father’s life from an early age. Sunette, is my partner’s mother, who is suffering from lung cancer, and I get to see how it affects him and the family, when she needs to go for treatments, and gets sick because of it, it’s a tough road for all, and a very big emotional struggle, where you sometimes feel helpless, and do not know what to do to make the situation better. These are two women who didn’t ask for this hell, as didn’t the women I photographed either. This is in honour of them.
These women all want to create awareness, and really want to bring hope, as many will tell you there is sometimes the untold story, which all cancer sufferers and patients know, but the rest of the world doesn’t, such as knowing sometimes in chemo sessions, you feel very supported with doctors and nurses and other patients around you, and then you go home….. and sometimes at 23h at night, you feel so desperately alone that you wish you could pick up the phone and call someone who might understand. Or that you are dead scared of losing your breasts, and then that worst case scenario becomes the best case scenario for you, and the only way out, and then waking up with a flat chest has a way of stripping you from your femininity and has a way of making you feel empty. So hope, is what they want to bring, and they want to show how they are strong still, fighters still, and carrying on – still.
I wanted to capture their beauty, their gentleness, showed their feminine sides, and wanted to add my own botch of creativity a well, and wanted to bring that all together for a visually stunning project. These women are also available to tell their story, which is what they would love to do, to show the process, and to help with awareness, some visibility, and a message of strength and bravery.