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After fashion photographer David Jay learned that his close friend, Paulina, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, he had no grand plans to make any statement on the disease through his work. Within just two weeks of her diagnosis at age 29, Pauline had a mastectomy. "[She's a] beautiful, strong, young woman," Jay relates. "I had taken Paulina’s picture a hundred times since she was 17. I saw her soon after her surgery and knew I would have to shoot her again. I took her picture because...taking pictures is my way of confronting, understanding, and accepting the things I see. When I began doing this, I was simply dealing with my own pain in watching my friend’s suffering."
Jay would have left it at that — but then, Paulina's friends from chemotherapy asked him to take their portraits, too, and The SCAR Project photo series was born. "Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in young women ages 15-40," the project's website reads. "Dedicated to the more than 10,000 women under the age of 40 who will be diagnosed this year alone, The SCAR Project is an exercise in awareness, hope, reflection, and healing." With his portraits, Jay raises funds for breast-cancer research and outreach while also capturing the strength and beauty of women who bear scars from the disease they fought — and, in some cases, continue to fight.
So far, Jay has photographed nearly 100 young women who have survived breast cancer. Among them is Barbie Ritzco, U.S. Marine and taker of the topless selfie we covered on this site last week. Jay has published 50 of these photographs in his book The SCAR Project: Breast Cancer Is Not A Pink Ribbon. The title begs the question: What does Jay have against pink ribbons?
"Hundreds of thousands of people have viewed these images, and I have yet to meet anyone who has said they previously knew what breast cancer looked like — really looked like," Jay explains. "In our society, breast cancer is hidden away behind a little, pink ribbon... Many women dislike the pink ribbon. They resent the commercialization of breast cancer that it represents. One of the SCAR Project subjects said to me, 'If a man got prostate cancer, do you think someone would give him a pink T-shirt and teddy bear?' It (unintentionally) diminishes something that is terrifying, disfiguring, and deadly."
Jay hopes that his portraits do justice to the complexity of emotions surrounding breast cancer. The expressions captured in the nine portraits here range from fierce to sensual to joyful to anguished. Jay especially recalls his shoot of Sara, "the red-haired woman with tears running down her face... She’d had a double mastectomy in her mid-20s," he shares. "The shoot was going well. There was laughter. I was pleased with the images we had captured. I loaded the pictures into the computer and called Sara over to look at them. She came and stood behind me in silence. And then, tears. Mine, too. I grabbed the camera again. 'Now, we take pictures,' I said." Click through for Sara's portrait, and those of nine other breast cancer survivors who are reclaiming their bodies and identities through the lens.