A Daughter Photographs Her Mother's Breast Cancer Treatment

Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
When it comes to the language that people use when they talk about breast cancer, photographer Annabel Clark, daughter of renowned actress Lynn Redgrave, takes a firm stance. For starters, none of this "battling cancer" kind of talk — her mother was diagnosed with the disease in 2002, living through two rounds of treatment and recovery. Clark maintains that Redgrave never "fought off" anything:

"For [my mother], it was something that she lived with. She lived with it for a long time and she kept working. She had a lot more going on in her life than just the cancer. We both kind of felt like, when you’re battling cancer, you’re not doing anything else. You’re just ‘fighting’ this disease. It’s just so negative sounding."

Redgrave's first round of cancer treatment lasted a year, from 2002 to 2003. During that time, Clark photographed her extensively: She didn't just go with her mother to her chemotherapy sessions or doctor's appointments. Clark lived this year of treatment and recovery right alongside Redgrave, whether she was in the hospital, celebrating her birthday at home, or continuing her work as an actress on the stage.

A few years later, the cancer reappeared in Redgrave's bones. She underwent treatment once again, and lived for four more years before passing away in 2010. The series concludes with Redgrave making a recovery, but her story with cancer sadly continued after Clark finished her project. In those final years, Clark says they became closer than they had ever been: "We ended up spending so much time together, learning more about each other, and.,.our roles reversed a little bit...We kept going back and forth taking care of each other. I think it evened things out to the point that we were more like friends — or sisters (laughs)."
Clark's book, Journal: A Mother and Daughter's Recovery from Breast Cancer, is available for purchase here. Click through to see Redgrave and Clark's life together during Redgrave's first year of cancer treatment and recovery.
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
When asked whether her mother was comfortable being photographed, Clark tells me they were actually on the same page from the very beginning:

"It’s kind of funny, she suggested it as I had been thinking about it. I was a photography student at Parsons at the time, so I was photographing everything anyway, so I think that she thought I would be helpful to me to process what was going on."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
A doctor's sketch of Redgrave's diagnosis.
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"She was used to being photographed, and yet I don’t think she would ever let anyone else photograph her this way."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"It was kind of amazing how the camera became invisible while I was shooting. I think, because she was so comfortable with me, that the camera was just in the background."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"I was trying to be fully present as a daughter and not just as a photographer."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"I remember her thinking that, because she was always transforming into other people, changing the way she looked...that she wouldn’t be vain when she lost her hair. She thought that she could just handle her looks changing in that way."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"I think she surprised herself when she lost her hair and looked in the mirror. She was surprised by how upset it made her, for her body and her face to change."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"[This photo] is definitely one of my favorites, and, I think, one of the strongest, because I think that’s the point when I realized that I was part of the story. It wasn’t just a photo essay about her disease. It was about taking care of her, about just going through the recovery together. The film, for some reason, was overexposed, and everything is white and light around us...It’s a really magical photo for me."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
Clark tells me "it’s been a while" since she's looked at these photos.

"After she died, which was 2010, I went through a period of feeling like no one should see them again, because when I originally did the project, I felt like there was a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the end of it was her no longer having cancer and being better."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"It felt like a success, and hopeful."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"When she died, I felt like, ‘Well, it didn’t work, you know? She still died, and who’s going to want to look at these when she didn’t make it?’"
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"...But I think that’s changed for me over time. I know that she was really proud of doing the project."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"She said that of all the accomplishments she had in her career and in her life, doing this book and doing this project with me was one of her proudest moments and what she wanted to be remembered by."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"I think I’ve come around to appreciate [the photos]. They’re not as hard to look at anymore."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"I think [looking at these images] can be really helpful for people who have just been diagnosed and [see] what’s it like to go through these treatments, at home and at the hospital, because her recovery didn’t occur just in the treatment rooms..."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"...It occurred surrounded by family and in the comfort of her own home."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"Despite cancer, you can still thrive and live your life."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
Redgrave outside of the hospital, bringing flowers to her nurses.
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"[When my mother was diagnosed], I wanted to help, but it’s very easy to feel like you can’t help, because you can’t cure it. It’s all out of your control."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"I felt like if I weren’t taking the pictures, I would have just been sitting in the waiting room, reading magazines, so I felt like I needed something proactive and involved."
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Photo: Courtesy of Annabel Clark.
"Just try to be there for the person."
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