One of "The Scar Project"'s subjects, Diana Featherstone
Fashion photographer David Jay turns his lens on a different subject in “The SCAR Project." Standing for “Surviving Cancer Absolute Reality,” "SCAR" is an exhibit at OpenHouse Gallery—running through October 17—that features intimate, often raw images of breast-cancer survivors. Here, Jay discusses how “The SCAR Project” came about, what he hopes to achieve through his work and the response he has gotten so far.
GOTHAM: How did “The SCAR Project” come about? DAVID JAY: I was born in California but I have lived in Australia for over 20 years, in Sydney. For a great deal of that time I lived with an Australian girl, and she has an identical twin sister. I’ve known them forever—since they were 17. I moved to New York about four years ago, and just before I moved here the twin sister got breast cancer—she was about 29. It was really shocking. She was this beautiful, healthy, strong Australian woman with no family history. Within two weeks, she had a mastectomy, all of her lymph nodes removed and chemotherapy.
Yes. When she finally came back, there was one breast that I remembered well and one totally flat spot. I was like, wow, I got to take your picture. And she said, “Of course you do.” So I dragged her to the studio and I took this beautifully disturbing portrait of her. After her shoot, [she] said that she obviously got something out of it and that maybe I would want to shoot a couple of other girls she had gone through chemo with. So I shot these two other young women in Australia, and then I moved to New York. I had these three pictures that really had no purpose, and I showed them to a few people, a few friends. They were like, “Wow, that’s pretty intense—maybe you should continue on.” So I came up with “The SCAR Project.”
This seems like it would be a difficult project for a fashion photographer.
A lot of people want to know if I find it very difficult. I don’t. I kind of just love all life on the planet. I love that connection—that pain that they share with me, and that emotion. I share it, too. We’re all scared, I guess. I know why these women have come. They not only want to confront what happened to them, but they want a beautiful picture as well—and they know that I can take one.
Along with awareness, what else do you want to accomplish through this?
“The SCAR Project” ultimately isn’t even about breast cancer. It’s about compassion and understanding the people around you. It’s about giving love, and giving your energy, and being aware of how powerful it is.