While attending a conference for creatives a few years ago, I was asked by three women to photograph them together. None of us knew what to expect when we were setting up for the shoot, but it quickly became apparent that something magical was happening. That shoot impacted all of us and sent ripples out in to the world that are still being felt.
These three women were survivors of breast cancer. All three were post mastectomy. One had chosen reconstruction, one had chosen to stay flat, and one had the reconstruction, but after ten years, was facing another surgery.
Our session started with a simple group shot. By the time it was over, they had all posed nude, both individually and together. It was one of the most powerful and meaningful moments any of us had ever experienced.
That was the beginning.
Since that day, I have been asked to photograph many thrivers – with cancer, of disfiguring surguries, of poor self image. Somehow, all of them found their way to my studio, not really knowing what to expect. Every single of them one left with a newly found strength. The experience of being there… being photographed… it changed them. It changed us both.
When Ren and I started incorporating the body paint, people began coming to us to become living works of art. The process of being painted allowed them to see themselves differently. Some saw beauty. Some saw strength. Some seemed to see their inner selves for the very first time. The photography became even more powerful. I found myself creating talismans of their experience… a physical manifestation of the change… something tangible that could draw them back in, to remeber their experience for years after.
Despite all of the overwhelming evidence, it still took me a while to realize the power of what was happening. It took a client messaging me after a photo session, describing how healing the process had been, and how much he appreciated me taking the time to photograph his scars.
In that moment, I realized the the true power of this work. In that moment, I knew I had to take a step into a bigger world.
Photography. Body paint. Artistic nudes. Humans in water. Whatever opened the door. I wanted to remind people that they are still people… not defined by their disease. I wanted people to know they are loved and appreciated for who they are, not just what they are going through. I wanted people to see their beauty.
The Serenity Project was born. It is about healing. Acceptance. Embracing what is. Finding beauty in the moment. It is about the healing power of art. Holding a sacred space. About really listening.
It is about hope.
It is about being seen.
And it is about telling our stories.