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Scarred But Not Scared

Photographer turns lens on young breast cancer survivors

By Jane Durrell · September 14th, 2011 · Visual Art
arts_vanessa_tiemeier_by_david_jay_for_scarImage of Vanessa Tiemeier - David Jay

“It’s beauty in a whole different way, shocking at first, but so meaningful,” says Litsa Spanos, whose gallery, Art Design Consultants Inc., will show the traveling photography exhibition The SCAR Project from Sept. 29-Oct. 2.  

The show presents photographer David Jay’s life-size prints of young women whose struggles with breast cancer have left them scarred but valiant. Jay, whose usual photographs illustrate high fashion, turns his skills to a very human subject here, making clear that that the disease does not just afflict the old. The women in his pictures range in age from 18-35. 

One of those women, Vanessa Tiemeier, lives in Delhi Township and is a member of the Cincinnati exhibition planning committee. Her diagnosis, in spring of 2007, came less than a year after her wedding and has been an up-and-down physical and emotional experience ever since. When she first heard of the SCAR Project she “was intrigued, a little leery, but wanted to know more,” she said. Eventually, she would go twice to New York for photographs. She said she found it “a wholly new experience. David Jay is passionate about the project and good at putting you at ease.” 

Tiemeier, who credits her husband and close family for pulling her through, is a graphic designer along with her two sisters in their firm Blustery Day Design, based in Highland Heights, Ky. Tiemeier is the only Cincinnati woman so far to have been photographed for the project. 

“This is me now,” she says.

“This is my life.” 

Two other area women are among the survivors pictured by Jay and included in the exhibition: Diana Featherstone and Heather Salazar, both of Dayton. 

Jay, whose recognition of breast cancer came when it struck a young personal friend, said in an email to CityBeat that he wanted to counter “the media’s nearly complete focus on breast cancer victims over 40.” Asked how these portraits differ from his fashion work, he replied that as an international fashion photographer he tries “to capture an idealized version of the contemporary zeitgeist of female beauty. 

The SCAR Project is not ‘idealized.’ There is something painfully beautiful in humanity. A beauty that transcends glossy, mass-produced images,” he continued.

In a previous statement for the SCAR Project, Jay has said he means his portraits to “challenge traditional perceptions of the disease and capture the raw beauty, strength and character of so many extraordinary young women.”

More than 100 survivors, from all across the country and from abroad, have come to his studio to be photographed for The SCAR Project. The undertaking as a whole is meant to raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer, to raise funds for breast cancer research/outreach programs, and to help young survivors “see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens,” according to website www.thescarproject.org.

The non-profit SCAR Project’s first exhibition was last year in New York City. Local interest in the project has brought about the Cincinnati showing, SCAR’s second appearance since the inception of the idea four years ago. The same set of photographs will be shown in New York, again, and also in Turin, Italy, this year. 

Jay sees The SCAR Project as ongoing, with the content changing as new photographs are added. These portraits, he said in his e-mail, “can be uncomfortable for the viewer. They force us to confront our fears and inhibitions about life, death, sexuality, sickness, relationships, etc. … The SCAR Project presents an opportunity to open a dialogue about issues we are not necessarily comfortable with.”

THE SCAR PROJECT is on display at Art Design Consultants, Inc. (310 Culvert St., Downtown) Sept. 29-Oct. 2. Tickets: $15; $10 to breast cancer survivors. Tickets for David Jay’s walkthroughs are $35. For full info, visit www.thescarprojectcincy.blogspot.com



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