comments_image Comments

A Photographer's Mission to Show That Breast Cancer Is More Than Pink Ribbons

In this Q&A with photographer David Jay, he says he hopes his photos raise awareness of the realities of breast cancer, which are too often hidden "behind a little pink ribbon."

Photo Credit: David Jay


Adapted from

Fashion photographer David Jay first turned his lens to breast cancer almost six years ago, shooting photos of mostly young women who'd been through disfiguring surgeries. Now his exhibition, the much-lauded SCAR Project: Breast Cancer is Not a Pink Ribbon, is traveling around the country. His photos are part of a recent book on the SCAR Project, which is also the subject of a new documentary called "Baring it All."

Jay photographs young women who are grappling with a life-threatening illness, revealing the scars from mastectomies and in some cases reconstructive surgeries that attempt, with varying levels of success, to replace what was lost. Jay says he hopes that his photos raise awareness of the realities of breast cancer, which are too often "hidden away behind a little pink ribbon." At the same time, he believes that showing a less idealized version of female beauty can itself forge a deep admiration for another kind of beauty.

"There is something so painfully beautiful in humanity," Jay says. "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."


Photo Credit: David Jay

Jay's interview follows:

Q: How do you manage to shoot beautiful photos that challenge conventional notions of beauty?

A: I really struggled shooting the SCAR Project. As you know I'm a professional fashion photographer. I wanted the photos to be really, really raw and to be honest. But what I'm shooting isn't really a beautiful thing to look at. I wanted to reveal this honestly. Unfortunately or fortunately, when the women I was shooting would come to my door, I couldn't bear to take that very raw, not classically pretty picture. I knew why they had come on a certain level. They wanted something beautiful. They knew that I could do it, except that's not what I wanted to do. It's not about taking pretty pictures, it's about taking honest pictures.

I would spend a couple hours with each of the subjects, turn the lights this way and that way. Meanwhile, some of the women had put on weight from their hormonal treatments. Their skin looks like sandpaper from radiation, and they have a brutal scar. They're not looking their best. Once they were standing in front of me, I wanted to take a picture that was beautiful, at least for them. But I didn't think the pictures were honest.

It took me a couple of years to say, "No more shooting in the studio." I thought I was doing a disservice to the integrity of the SCAR Project by taking pretty pictures. Since then, the images have slowly evolved to a more and more documentary style, what you see with Jolene and other girls. You have a mix: some beautiful studio photos and more raw, documentary-style images. That being said, the raw ones are just as beautiful as the studio ones. Ultimately the beauty of the woman is going to come through, the soul of a woman.

Q: What else has changed in close to six years of doing SCAR Project?

A: When I first started, I didn't know if anyone would want to have their pictures taken or look at them after they were taken. I was really surprised when there was this huge response. The SCAR Project started out primarily as a young woman's awareness campaign, ages 40 and under. Then it moved down to 35 and under, then 30 and then 25 and under. The criteria have gotten narrower and narrower to represent a more and more accurate and full-ranging view of the disease.

See more stories tagged with: