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The Scars Beneath the Pink Ribbon

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A Scar Is a Story

When fashion photographer, David Jay discovered that one of his regular subjects was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 32, he immediately did what he could do best: He picked up his camera. Paulina, the identical twin of his then girlfriend, agreed with David that it was time to show the unglossed version of breast cancer. David then proceeded with a few sessions and both came out of it transformed.

The thought that someone like Paulina being diagnosed with this disease at such a young age took David aback. "It really knocked me down," he noted. "We tend to think of it as your mother's and grandmother's disease. And I found a lot of women who were in their 20s were getting it as well."

At the end of the session, Paulina suggested that he photograph her friends who were also in chemotherapy and in their 20s, sensing that "they may get something out of that process." Thus was the genesis of The SCAR (Surviving Cancer Absolute Reality) Project.

"A Young Woman's Campaign"

It was five years ago that David decided to move forward with The SCAR Project and hone in on the rawness of breast cancer. Brilliantly executed through a series of photographic sessions, each taking place on the weekends at his New York East Side studio, he was determined to keep it a "young woman's campaign," with his subjects ranging in age from late teens through early 30s. It is a segment that in his view has been greatly under-served in the broader span of media coverage. Buoyed by the fearlessness of his subjects, he pushed his mantra: to bring breast cancer awareness to the forefront and show that it can affect pretty much everyone, regardless of age.

"The SCAR Project is about exposing reality, what people really look like when they are suffering. It's something that we are all going to go through and bear witness with our parents, friends and ourselves at some point. We should open a dialogue about this and discuss it and bring it to light," he said.

He started off by posting open calls on various cancer forums including on Young Survival Coalition, using his existing portraits as a jumping off point. He had no idea what would await him on the other side of the 'send' button.

Thousands of messages from women who wanted to be photographed and have their story told immediately flooded his inbox.

During a span of five years, he photographed an international roster of 100 women who flew into New York City from Canada, the U.S., and as far away as Australia. He produced a riveting collection of photographs, which were shown in groups of 32 as part of his Pulitzer Prize nominated exhibit, The SCAR Project in New York. He also produced an additional 50 portraits published in a stand-alone hardcover book, The SCAR Project: Breast Cancer Is Not a Pink Ribbon, Volume 1.

The tagline? David explains, "In the Western culture, we cover it up with pink ribbons, pink T-shirts, and fluffy pink teddy bears. We don't want to talk about or see the reality. The SCAR Project made a big impact. It shows what you have never seen before."

Caution: some photos are explicit

Capturing it on Film

New York-based director and producer Patricia Zagarella, who discovered this unique project by a forwarded link by a friend, was also immediately taken in by the unpolished rawness of the David's photos.

"I was blown away. They were confronting," she said.

The powerful combination of fearlessness and unbridled passion inspired Zagarella to join forces with David. So, while he photographed, she was also on set capturing the transformation of the subjects during the two-hour sessions.

The result was a poignant documentary, aptly titled Baring It All, which focuses on four of David's subjects: Marcy, 30; Vanessa, 26; Michaela, 32; and Sylvia, 26. They all bring to life their own challenging stories and discuss in a refreshingly blunt manner how cancer affects their husbands, children, and social lives, as well as their overall relationships with themselves. Patricia was determined to keep to the unglossed vision of David's project in line with her film, emphasizing what cancer does to one's world.

"We wanted to show that ripple effect on breast cancer, and the impact it has on their families and their relationships," she said.

The Transformation

The relationship the women have with themselves is the most noted aspect of The SCAR Project. As documented in Baring It All, the idea of losing the essence of womanhood was not forgotten. All of them openly discussed how their bodies transformed when they lost their breasts -- either through necessary or elective (as in Michaela's case) mastectomies. The experience left them doubting their overall identity as women. In this beauty-driven world, it was all about bearing witness to a transformation during the shoots.

"That is that beautiful moment," Patricia enthused. "(The women) would have such a huge impact and would walk away with these sessions, seeing what (David) sees and being able to reclaim their femininity, sexuality and level of confidence that they didn't have two hours before."

"Certainly in the West, a huge part of a woman's identity is her breasts, which is unfortunate," David notes. "If all you have to offer is your breasts and a nice $600 handbag -- that's sad. Because both can be taken away, as we see in The SCAR Project."

On Nov. 18 Baring It all, which is presented by ReThink Breast Cancer, will be screened as the opening night film of Breast Fest 2011, the fourth annual film festival being held at the Royal Ontario Museum from Nov. 18 through Nov. 20. For more information visit The SCAR Project website or visit their Facebook page.

The SCAR Project: Breast Cancer Is Not a Pink Ribbon, Volume 1 and Baring It All DVD are both available at Amazon.com.

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