A Fine Art & Photography Essay of Survivors
Text by Lauren Britz
Photos by Michael Colanero
"It is only in our grief where we find our true strength, find the courage to let go and to create beautiful possibilities for a fulfilling life. Art and photography is our way of letting go through acknowledgment."
Photography isn't just about pictures of luscious landscapes, sensuous sunsets, bouncy babies and beautiful blushing brides. Photography, like all art, has the power to empower. To encourage. To create possibilities. To heal wounds. This is the vision of one spectacular artist photographer, Michael Colanero.
Michael was born in Buffalo, New York and grew up in and around the suburbs of Philadelphia. Michael started his career as a Artist, Graphic Designer and Photographer. Seven years ago he opened up the UNCOMMON Gallery in Fort Lauderdale to provide the local community with a venue to exhibit and sell their artistic work, and to provide creative services.
"I very much wanted the gallery to remove for others, so many of the obstacles that made it hard for me to get out there and show my work. To that end I wanted to create a gallery environment where both emerging and established artists could showcase and promote their work. I wanted to create not just a gallery but a community of people that could appreciate those works as well as socialize and network too."
It was within this network that the Breast Cancer Awareness Body Painting Project: A Fine Art & Photography Essay of Survivors was born.
This eloquent and awakening collaboration consists of breast cancer survivors who have their bare torso body painted in the most ethereal ways by the very talented body painter Keegan Hitchcock and Luci Ungerbuehler and then photographed by Michael. "At this point I pick the best images of the series of each model and start my digital artistry on them - creating images that are both visually engaging and thought provoking."
With over 200,000 breast cancer diagnoses each year in the US, Michael's aim with this project in hand is to "reach in all the directions it needs to, to make the biggest difference to those who need it most - financially, emotionally and spiritually."
Tongue-in-cheek, Michael whimsically states that he hopes his imagination can keep up with the positive impact and reach of the project - in many ways it has already done so much more then he could ever have anticipated and in ways he never expected.
Where to from here? Well Michael is very interested in getting the images into hospitals, doctors offices, plastic surgery clinics, oncology centers and the like.
"I and these wonderful women want to do all we can to alleviate stress and worry and to encourage others still on their path with this disease. One survivor participant told me she so wished she could of seen these images before her surgery and that being butchered was one of her biggest fears. To see a positive image of women who have come thru the battle would of been something very helpful for her and she hopes her images can do that for someone else. In fact its one of her main reasons for getting involved - the giving spirit and selflessness of these women in the project has been a privilege to be around."
All of the women (and at least one or two men - yes men get it too) are breast cancer survivors and carry the stories to go with that badge of honor. All women of all ages and backgrounds at various stages of their journey - that being - Pre, Post or non-reconstructive are involved in this project. These are all women who volunteered to be a part of this project for various reasons. The nudity required is tasteful and is not used for impact but rather to emphasize the human nature and form. Their human figures tell a story - like the hands of a worker show their history.
Each image is custom designed and tailored to the participating survivor. Their design symbolizes something important to them or their personality and relates to the larger story of a breast cancer survivor. Many of the images have layers of details that could be missed if not mentioned.
Take Cindy's image, "Ribbon in the Sky" - the ribbon wraps around the breast that she had breast cancer in. She had her remaining breast removed prophylactically to avoid a reoccurrence. Removing a healthy breast either for prevention or for genetic factors is not uncommon.
Sylvie's image, "The Year That Was" features several elements that contribute to her story. Her c-section scar was left in the image because it represented being there for her son who was a big part of her motivation for cancer survival. The numbers representing the days of the year are all over her body and the numbers right on her scar mark the month and day of her sons birth.
With Pamela's image, "Journey" you can still see the sutures in her left breast only weeks after her reconstruction surgery. This image shows the incredibly long journey she's been on and that she is almost there. She can see the rainbow.
Gillian's image, "Phoenix Rising" is for her the epitome of cancer survival. Like the Phoenix, Gillian encompasses a fiery spirit and a colorful way of being. Her cancer was like that of the Phoenix's lifespan which lasts a long time, but once it ceases to exist, her survival is like that of the new Phoenix rising - powerful and majestic.
The BCABPP is a work in progress. So far it has taken a little over a year and a half to locate, design, and paint/photograph and digitally edit 21 women. It's a very time consuming labor of love. Most of the images have between 40 to 90 hours of work in them and a few of the images have over 300 hours of work in them. Michael has a target of 50 survivors in mind and expects it will continue to grow and evolve over the next year to year and a half.
If you are interested in participating in this project email Michael Colanero. All these pieces are for sale with 100% of the profits going to the Kristy Lasch Miracle Foundation - helping woman under 30 with medical expenses incurred by breast cancer.
Follow the BCABPP on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.