They say scars are mirrors to the soul. That’s probably what David Jay was thinking when he snapped those photos of various women who had undergone bilateral mastectomy, reconstructive procedures or lumpectomy. In those Breast Cancer survivors and fighters, David Jay found the beauty that he was seeking, beauty that transcends race, nationality, religion or social position. As a photographer very familiar with shooting nude or partially nude women,David Jay has a keen eye on perfection, he knows the emotional vulnerability a nude model could feel while standing in front of him, baring her soul and her body, with nowhere to hide. With SCAR project models, it is even more vulnerable and more honest.
That’s where the beauty comes from: rawness, exposure, pain mixed with strength and fragility. The human condition in all its complexities and suffering could be seen through the eyes of these beautiful women who chose to share with us their battle wounds.
David Jay first got sucked into the breast cancer abyss when his longtime friend Paulina was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 29 years of age. David talks about how Paulina was a very beautiful, strong, young woman. David had already taken Paulina’s photographs tons of times ever since she was 17. Now that she had her first surgery, David knew he had to photograph her again. It was David’s method -as a photographer and a human being- to confront what he didn’t understand, to cope with a change so strong and so scary that he witnessed in a close one.
From that moment and for 15 years more, David has embarked on a pilgrimage of shooting as many breast cancer-torn women as possible. Through those photos, David aimed to raise awareness for young women, to let the world see how breast cancer patients are actually going through away from the fluffy, sparkling pink ribbons and teddy bear. There’s no “Pinktober” or bras with pink straps. SCAR is all about nudity, honesty and the resilience of the human body. SCAR is also about beauty and the acceptance of all that life has to offer us with grace, courage, empathy and understanding.
David considers his SCAR collection of photos complete. He only adds one or two photos from time to time, and they most depict the very unfortunate cases. David has sadly confessed that four of the 35 subjects have passed away so far. A scary 10% of the SCARred women are also estimated to die from breast cancer soon. Just like David, the world admires how they intended for their image to be remembered and how they made icons of themselves for other -maybe shier or less daring- women.
Every subject had its own beauty and tragic story, but David recounts Sara’s photoshoot. Among the large scale portraits, she is the red haired woman with tears running down her face. The photoshoot was first intended to be lighthearted and amicable. But when David loaded the images into the computer and asked Sara to come over and see, her reaction was of bursting in tears. That’s when the real photograph came out, even with David in tears himself.
There’s also Jolene, who passed away on October 30th, 2011. Despite her absence from our world, David considers Jolene to be one of the most courageous and strong women he has ever met. Jolene was diagnosed with breast cancer since she was 17 only for the cancer to spread throughout her body even more. It even spread to her jaw which they had to remove and try to reconstruct. A tumor also grew near her skull, pressed on her brain and caused her to have multiple strokes. As her health deteriorated, however, her spirit remained intact. Her strength and courage seeped through her soul and touched David Jay during the photoshoot making it one emotionally draining and also poignantly beautiful.
David admits to focusing on young breast cancer patients through SCAR. The age range of his subjects is from 18-35. This is due to the media focusing on postmenopausal women only. Most of the breast cancer campaigns address 40 years and older women even though a large number of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are less than 35 years of age and with lower survival rates than older women.
Worldwide reception has been overwhelming for David’s project. Thousands of people flock to his gallery in NYC everyday. There are now over 39,000 people on The SCAR Project Facebook fanpage. Millions have visited the project’s official website. SCAR has even garnered David an Emmy Award, given to the documentary that was made about it (Baring It All). The film -which has aired internationally- focuses on David’s project and picks 4 of his subjects to tell their story.
The secret lies in how SCAR tackles reality and hands it to each and every one of us. People who have seen SCAR were forced to confront their fears and inhibitions about life, death, sexuality, sickness and relationships. SCAR broke the taboo of nudity, the female body image and perfection. All-in-all, SCAR will always remain an inspiration for breast cancer patients all over the world and an ode to those who lost their battles to it.
David Jay is currently traveling the country photographing his current project, The Unknown Soldier.
Written by: Jaylan Salah