If you have a Facebook account you have likely already seen news of the project “Under the Red Dress” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/14/beth-whaanga-breast-cancer-scars-facebook_n_4775901.html) by Beth Whaanga, the young mother of four and Cancer survivor, and Nadia Masot, the photographer.
The premise of “Under the Red Dress” is two fold…first it aims to show the ravages of a Cancer diagnosis and, secondly, it encourages us, society, to be mindful that we don’t always, or even often, know what challenges another person is facing (be it Cancer, depression, divorce, abuse, etc.).
Whaanga was diagnosed on her 32 birthday with Breast Cancer. In subsequent testing it was also discovered that she carries the BRCA2 gene, which placed her at very high risk for both Breast and Ovarian Cancers. She then had to make the devastating decision to have preventative surgeries.
I am so impressed by Whaanga’s courage to be photographed in such an intimate and candid way. This is the type of work that changes perceptions, it is the tearing down of facades and hushed talk. Cancer is very real, it doesn’t discriminate striking anyone at any time, and it involves invasive and destructive (but ultimately life saving) treatments. The honest depiction of what Cancer ‘looks like’ is seen in this series – not unlike the SCAR Project – and I believe that showing this side of the subject can only empower us, as a global society, through gained empathy and acceptance.
When interviewed, Whaanga said:
“Your scars are a physical or emotional representation of a trial you’ve been through,” Whaanga told The Huffington Post in an email. “They show that you came through the trial and survived.”
I believe in the power of a photograph. I believe it can change how we see people/circumstances/issues and, more importantly, it can change how we feel about them.
It is reported that upon Whaanga posting her images to her Facebook page she was ‘unfriended’ by 100 people. Criticism included that the pictures were offensive and that Facebook was the wrong venue. I’m personally blown away that anyone could see anything other than courage, strength, and beauty in these photographs and, if they are shocking – these images of truth – well, that just means we need to see more of them…war doesn’t go away because the photojournalist is told to put her camera down. We must, as a group, stand up and against Cancer. We must look it straight in the eye with a fierce determination that we will do whatever it takes to save lives.
I would like to add that it is also reported that Whaanga’s images were reported to Facebook as offensive but that Facebook has written Whaanga to say they will not be removed. I credit David Jay, of The SCAR Project, with Facebook’s much improved stance on this subject.