Portraits of strength
Portraits of strength is a photographic exhibition, book, and website that captures the beauty and honesty of eleven courageous women battling breast cancer.Words and photos: Damien Nikora
Portraits of Strength is a photographic exhibition, book, and website that captures the beauty and honesty of eleven courageous women battling breast cancer. Each photograph will announce its own message to the viewer giving these women a voice to raise awareness and inspire action.
The portraits are topless, uncovering a portion of each woman’s individual journey with breast cancer. One woman stated, “I am not an exhibitionist by nature, but breast cancer is regrettably so common now I think it’s important to cross that last frontier.”
As a photographer my goal was to photograph these women with sensitivity and earn a trust that allowed feelings of fear and vulnerability to be exchanged for empowerment and confidence.
The website is an integral part of the project. It will give everyone who attends the exhibition an opportunity to connect with each woman. Viewers can give feedback on what the exhibition impressed upon them. The website can be viewed at www.portratisofstrength.com (not ready yet)
The book is a work in progress and will come a little later than the exhibition itself. It will be a resource to inspire and encourage women, their families and friends going through breast cancer. The book will combine the major portraits with candid images of the women in their day-to-day life.
I love this project! My intention was to motivate and inspire other women, but have found myself completely inspired and motivated to make major adjustments in my life. I have been amazed how super positive all the women have been. It was a luxury for me to really get to know these women before I shot them and that has made all the difference.
I want to use my ability to inspire, empower and change lives, including my own. After 10 years in the industry I know the power of photography is a vital influence to make change in this world.
Helena McAlpine, a former TV presenter with C4, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2009. The 31-year-old mother of one has maintained her vivacious spirit and sense of humour throughout her treatment, which has included the removal of a breast, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She shared her story with current affairs show Campbell Live earlier this year, saying she hoped it would raise awareness about the disease. “You make a choice every single day,” she said. “You can either get up every morning and feel really sorry for yourself, or you can flip the coin over, put a smile on your dial, go out into the world and be magnificent.”
TV presenter and actress Shavaughn Ruakere is one of the many friends Helena credits with helping her maintain her positive mind-set.
Aucklander Margo Coromandel-Popata, 54, had just returned from a family holiday in the Far North when a routine mammogram revealed she had a 6 cm tumour in her breast. She had the breast removed, completed a course of chemotherapy, and when she spoke with Pink had just completed radiotherapy treatment. Margo, who has three children, said she felt fabulous and was looking forward to resting up, returning to her work in community support and generally “getting back on track”. Margo firmly believes mammograms need to be offered to younger women and conducted more regularly, saying her tumour would have been detected far earlier if they were. “We should really be having ultrasounds as well,” she says.
Healing powers: Margo says hot stone massages have helped her enormously, particularly with fluid retention.
Clinical psychologist Gwendoline Smith is in the process of writing a straight-talking, no-holds-barred book about the practicalities of living with breast cancer, set for publication in late 2011. Diagnosed in early 2009, Gwendoline, who lives in Auckland with partner Murray, has had a double mastectomy and reconstruction. Now back at work she has one more procedure scheduled, in November, and says she’s generally feeling positive about the future and is particularly excited about the book. “I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t know someone who’s been affected by cancer,” she says. “I hope the book will provide them with helpful information they wouldn’t have found otherwise.”
Working it out at a Pink Pilates session at Re:Ab Physiotherapy and Fitness Centre.