The SCAR Project

November 5, 2011

It began when David Jay learned that a 29-year old friend had been diagnosed with breast cancer. A fashion photographer, Jay’s instinctive response was to take her picture. The result was what he called a “beautifully disturbing portrait.”

That photograph, which unflinchingly displayed both the woman’s beauty and her mastectomy scar, was the genesis of the SCAR Project. Jay went on to photograph dozens of women who underwent mastectomies while between the ages 18 and 35. All of his subjects courageously displayed what is usually hidden from the world: the devastating physical changes wrought by their disease.

The SCAR Project images have been gathered into a book (The SCAR Project), a DVD (The SCAR Project documentary), and a traveling exhibition, which is currently at the Openhouse Gallery in Soho.

The gallery has two levels. There is a folding chair near the front door. A few votive candles are burning, a lucite box holds printed guides to the exhibit, and a table, draped in white, displays a visitors’ book, the DVD and the Scar Project book. A glass container for donations is perched on a nearby ledge.

Otherwise, the space is empty. There is nothing to distract from the portraits, which are blown up to much larger than life-size and hang against stark white brick walls. Each photo has a label with the first name and initial of the woman pictured and the age at which her cancer was diagnosed.

The women in the photos gaze directly into the lens of the camera and reveal their disfiguring scars, discolored flesh, misshapen breasts, puckered skin. The images are shocking, moving, powerful and beautiful.

The printed guide contains statements from each of the women on display. It also reminds us that these should not be considered a collection of pictures of cancer survivors — some of the women involved in the SCAR Project have died.

One lost her battle with cancer before Jay was able to shoot her photo; the place where her portrait would have been displayed is marked by a large black rectangle. Another died only days before the exhibit opened; a vase of flowers was placed below her portrait.

Below are excerpts from the participants’ statements:

I am glad I didn’t listen to people who thought I was too young to get breast cancer. I listened to my body instead.

I thought about my body, and all that it has been through. It almost felt like my body did not belong to me, but to the medical community.

A scar that marks me, separates me. Makes me wonder if anyone could love me and not be scared of my death.

My breasts did not define me as a woman, and without them, I am still curvaceous, sexy, and confident.

I never thought I would do a project like this, but I never thought I would have a mastectomy.

It is about demystifying the physical scars left, and even celebrating them as war wounds from a heroic battle.

Cancer took many things from me, but the one thing I may never get over losing is my sense of security.

With my participation in the SCAR Project, I hope that other women will find comfort in these images knowing what to expect …. having our breasts removed doesn’t make us any less feminine and we are all still beautiful.

I stare into the eyes of my corpse. But I still feel, so I know I still live. And for life, for my life, I will continue to fight.

I … see it as something to leave this world after I’m gone. Something for my family to look at and never forget the fight that I fought for my life.

The SCAR Project has replaced a huge piece that was missing within me and I feel in control of my life again.

I’d love to see a beautiful photograph of something I find so ugly. Maybe if my scars were viewed as art it would help me to heal.

As part of the SCAR Project, I can “just be me”. No covering up or masking the truth. No pretending that everything is fine. Here I am. This is me now. This is my life.

I am a force of femininity to be reckoned with even without the organs that have come to define womanhood in our culture.

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The poster for the exhibit

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The gallery door

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View from the street

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Reading the guide on the upper level

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The lower level

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Looking at the black “portrait”

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The table and guest book

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Diagnosed at 17, she died shortly before the opening

The SCAR Project
The SCAR Project Exhibition
Utne Reader: The SCAR Project
Openhouse Gallery


Remember, They Say

September 10, 2011

Actually, I wish I could forget. But it isn’t possible; everywhere I look there are reminders, and this year their presence is especially heavy — even at home. This is what was in my personal email inbox this morning.

My-Inbox


Signs of a Hurricane

August 27, 2011

In anticipation of Hurricane Irene, the mayor ordered low-lying neighborhoods evacuated. As they prepared to leave their homes and businesses, some New Yorkers quickly posted signs with messages about — and for — the massive storm.

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A store in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood

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At Rockaway Taco, Queens

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Cafe, Court Street, Brooklyn

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An apartment building in Rockaway Beach, Queens

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Liquor Store on Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights

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Another Red Hook storefront

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Optical shop, Court Street, Brooklyn

ABC News: Hurricane Irene: Lights Go Dark


At Last

June 25, 2011

It happened last night. I was attending a large event. The main speaker was at the front of the room, holding the attention of the rapt audience.

Suddenly, a woman stood and, without preamble, began reading aloud from the cell phone in her outstretched hand. “The State Senate has just passed legislation making same-sex marriage legal in the State of New York!”

The room erupted in cheers and applause and all in attendance began hugging friends and strangers alike. Last night a long, difficult struggle for equal rights finally came to an end.

The key votes in passing the new law came from two men, both of whom put their consciences above their party loyalty:

NY State Senator Stephen M. Saland, a Republican from Poughkeepsie, who said, “My intellectual and emotional journey has ended here today, and I have to find doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality, and that equality includes within the definition of marriage.”

NY State Senator Mark J. Grisanti, a Republican from Buffalo, who stated, “I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, the people of my district and across this state, the State of New York — and those people who make this the great state that it is — the same rights that I have with my wife.”

I’ve never been prouder of my state. It’s been a long time coming, but in New York State, the rule of law is for equality — at last, at last, at last.

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This magnet, long stuck to my file cabinet, is now an historic relic.

NY Times: New York Allows Same-Sex Marriage
NY Times: The Road to Gay Marriage in New York


A Windfall

May 26, 2011

For months, I’ve heard friends discussing what they’d do with the income tax refunds they expected to receive.

One announced that his refund was going to be used to fix his leaky roof. Others said that they used the check sent by the IRS to repair a truck, pay off credit card debt, purchase a new refrigerator, television, computer, clothing. Some preferred to use the money on less practical items: a tropical vacation, tickets to a Broadway show, an excursion to a spa.

But now that my tax refund has arrived, and I have my windfall in hand, I’m not sure how to spend it all. Any suggestions?

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My windfall


AIDS Walk NY 2011

May 15, 2011

The weatherman predicted that it would be a rainy Sunday and he was right; we had a downpour. At times, the 47,000 people who participated in this year’s AIDS Walk NY were drenched.

But many of those who sign up for this, the world’s largest AIDS fundraising event, view it as more than just a charity fund raiser. In fact, quite a few of the participants – even those who can’t raise any money at all – consider participation something akin to a sacred obligation.

Regardless of the weather, regardless of their own disabilities or discomfort, they push forward on foot, crutches and in wheelchairs, uphill and down, and they somehow manage to complete the 10 kilometer trek around Central Park.

Just past the finish line, up a little hillock, large pieces of cardboard were hung under the shelter of a white tent. There, walkers used felt-tip markers to record their reasons for walking. Thousands stood in the tent and wrote until their messages overlapped and no empty space remained.

No matter why they chose to come out and walk on a wet gray morning, their determination helped raise a total of $6,214,768 and will bring us closer to a cure for the scourge that has taken so many lives and broken so many hearts.

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A walker writing on the hanging cardboard

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I walk for love

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I walk because I can

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I walk because my two kids need to grow up

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We walk for Grandma Shirley

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I walked … for all those who can’t

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I walk for the sake of my HIV patients

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I walk for Freddie – it’s been a long 20 yrs. without you

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I walk for my dad – and a cure

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I walk to help others in need

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We walk for all of our angels that left to soon

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I walked for the ones I lost

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I walk for Kenneth, John D., Michael, Bruce, John C. R.I.P.

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I walked for everyone

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I walk for a better world

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I walk for friends & family who died or living with HIV/AIDS

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I walk for life, I walk for love, I walk for my family

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I walked with a reason!

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I walk to make a difference

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We walked to create smiles, to show that we care

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I walk for Hernando, my bestie

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I walk for hope

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I walk in memory for all who lost their lives

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I walk for my generation

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I walk for my beloved mother, Damaris R.I.P.

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I walk because it’s the right thing to do

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I walk for my darling Francis. I love you

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I walk … so my grandchildren and great grandchildren won’t have to

AIDS WALK NY


This is a sale?

March 22, 2011

FreshDirect, New York’s premiere online grocery service, made its first deliveries to Roosevelt Island in Manhattan in 2002. Over the years it has expanded into other sections of the city (even New Jersey) and has won legions of detractors and admirers.

While critics have blasted the company for “overpackaging” (FreshDirect responded by reducing the amount of packing materials they use) and branded those who use it as “lazy,” I’ve been a satisfied customer since first they began serving my neighborhood.

While I find myself in local grocery stores nearly every day, I’ve come to rely on the FreshDirect team to deliver those items that — while cost-effective — are simply too heavy to me to schlepp home: cases of beverages, bags of kitty litter and huge containers of laundry detergent. I also scan their weekly newsletter to check out the latest offerings and bargains.

This week, however, some of the items currently featured on their Web site under the heading “Healthy Living For Less” don’t seem like such a bargain to me.

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Healthy Living for Less page

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Not such a deal

FreshDirect
New York Times: FreshDirect Expands Brooklyn Delivery Service


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