What inspired you to shoot The SCAR Project?
I never intended to shoot The SCAR Project. It evolved very organically after a dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 29. Within two weeks she’d had a mastectomy. A beautiful, strong, young woman, 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, perhaps as a photographer, taking pictures is my way of confronting, understanding and accepting the things I see. During the seven years that I was shooting the The SCAR Project the wars in Irag and Afghanistan were raging. I knew then that I needed to address an often unseen consequence of our (all of our) actions. I began photographing “The Unknown Soldier” series.
Was the process of shooting these women easy? Difficult?
I struggled shooting The SCAR Project. I was torn. I wanted the pictures to be raw, honest, sincere. Yet I knew why the subjects had come—they wanted something beautiful. They had already suffered greatly and although I desperately wanted to serve them, I knew in my heart that compromising the visual integrity of The SCAR Project for the sake of easily digested beauty would serve no one. There is an inherent beauty in humanity. A beauty that transcends the glossy, mass-produced images force-fed by popular media. We recognize it instantly: The human condition. Hope, despair, love, loss, courage, fear. Such fragile beauty. I moved closer.
What is the purpose of The SCAR Project and The Unknown Soldier?
I want to be clear, The SCAR Project is not about breast cancer and The Unknown Soldier is not about war. They are about many things. The images can be uncomfortable for the viewer. It forces us to confront our fears and inhibitions about life, death, sexuality, sickness, relationships, etc. I once read it described as “unflinching.” Reality is not always pretty. This is reality. Let’s address it. Both The SCAR Project and The Unknown Soldier present an opportunity to open a dialogue about issues we are not necessarily comfortable with . . . and in the case of The Unknown Soldier, responsible for.
What kind of reactions have you received regarding the projects?
When I first started shooting The SCAR Project I honestly didn't know if anyone would want to look at the pictures. Seven years later and I now think I know. The response has been wonderfully positive . . . and humbling. I have received thousands of emails from people around the world . . . people of every age, culture, religion and social standing. The emails are often deeply moving, relaying to me the personal struggles they have faced in their own lives . . . and often, how seeing the images had catalyzed a sense of self-acceptance, dignity, self-worth and love within them. Upon reading the first of those emails I remember thinking, "If I died tomorrow, I would be the happiest man in the world".
What are you hoping to tell the viewer in The Unknown Soldier?
Like The SCAR Project, the images of The Unknown Soldier are not so much about the subjects themselves as they are about the viewer, as in some distant way we are all responsible. I hope the images transcend the narrow and simplistic confines of "war" and encourage us to examine the way we engage each other - both friend and stranger - at its most basic, day to day level, as it is these subtle, seemingly innocuous interactions that will ultimately lead us either to peace . . . or to the continuum and carnage of war.
Can you – in words tell the story about 2-3 pictures of your choice (you know: Background, your work with the model etc…)
Perhaps during the shoot of Sara, the red haired woman with tears running down her face. The shoot was going well. The pictures looked good, honest. 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. There is something about photography that’s very real. We’re so accustomed to seeing ourselves in a mirror, but that reflection is actually reversed. A photograph isn’t. That’s why it’s often shocking to see ourselves in a photograph—it’s not what we see in the mirror every day. It’s what everyone else sees. In that moment, Sara came face to face with herself. She’d had a double mastectomy in her mid-20s. It was both shocking and confronting for her.
The SCAR Project will be exhibited from Thursday 11 – Sunday 21 September, 2014, On Seven at David Jones, Elizabeth Street Store, Sydney - FREE ENTRY.
For more information visit: http://www.davidjones.com.au/Whats-On-and-Events/2014/08/SCAR