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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."

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Q: Any retouching?

A: There is no retouching.

Q: So your exhibit contains both stylized and raw shots?

A: Yes, and it contains the first picture I shot and the last one so far.

Q: Where is the exhibit?

A: It's traveling all around the U.S. and Europe. The next stop is in Washington, D.C., then Toronto and L.A. The exhibit changes in each city, with a few pictures removed and some added.

Q: So you're still taking photos?

A: I try to follow the women as the disease progresses. Until the very end if that is what's to be.

The last one in New York at the end of October was a very upsetting exhibition. One girl I'd been shooting four years passed away on opening day. I had just shot her at her home in California a couple weeks prior to her death. One of her last wishes was to come to New York and see the exhibition. We arranged to bring her and her mother to New York and unfortunately she was so sick at end, she couldn't get on the plane and passed away two days later.

[Pause for interviewer to keep composure]

Q: On another topic, what kind of feedback have you gotten?

A: It's been amazing. It seems to have touched a nerve that hadn't been shown the light of day. Like I said, I didn't know if anyone would look at these pictures. I never expected that the pictures would be life changing for so many people. I get so many beautiful emails and messages on Facebook. So many say the same thing: "I'm a 40- or 50-year-old woman with breast cancer, and since I've had my mastectomy: a) I've never been able to look at myself in the mirror, and b) I don't get dressed in front of my husband post-mastectomy." The messages follow similar lines. Then they write, "I got a link to the SCAR Project," and then they say, "It changed my life. It changed my perspective of myself as a woman and a human being." That feedback is the greatest gift I've ever been given.

Q: So breast cancer patients and survivors are getting validation from this?

A: Absolutely. Ultimately the SCAR Project isn't even about breast cancer. I've come to see more and more that it's more about humanity in general and having a greater compassion and understanding, being more present in our lives, being more gracious with our love. I think a lot of people get that. It's because everyone suffers. Some with cancer and some with a million other things, but when we stand in the room at the exhibition, you can't leave unchanged. And you don't leave changed about breast cancer, you leave changed as a human being.

Q: How did the documentary happen?

A: A filmmaker had approached me a few years ago and thought SCAR Project was very interesting. She inquired about doing a documentary. I said, "Sure, if it's going to be honest, do it." We spent two years filming it. The result is "Baring it All." It aired on The Style Network last year. Since then it's been shown around the world

The story revolves around the SCAR Project. It's at the hub, but the documentary focuses more on the women that I shot for the SCAR Project and has some very intimate and raw and revealing interviews with these girls, and their partners. It's the story behind the photos.

Q: Do you still do fashion photography?

 
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