A collaboration with photographer Laura Stevens
At the core of my first full collection, Excisions (Waterloo, 2011) is a cycle of poems based on my experience of risk-reducing double mastectomy. These poems, alongside Laura Stevens’ photographs of my body taken before and after surgery, form the multi-media project Self-portrait without Breasts, which I blog about here. I have spoken and published extensively on this project.
A new online publication – an extended version of Breastless – (Sept 2017) brings together all the poems in the cycle and many of Laura’s photos, alongside journal pieces from 2006/7 and new essays.
‘As a teenager in the 1970s, when cancer was still taboo, I nursed my mother through the trauma of two radical mastectomies. My aunt and my first cousin developed breast cancer in the decades that followed.
When I reached my late 40s, the age at which my mother first had the disease, doctors told me I too had a high risk of breast cancer. I chose preventative bilateral mastectomy, without reconstruction. I also chose not to disguise my new flat chest.
Throughout the months of decision-making, surgery and recovery, I wrote a journal. I made plaster casts of my body. Laura Stevens took ‘before and after’ photos. Gradually, what had begun as my way of coping, evolved into a major creative project.’
‘In 2006, Clare asked me to photograph her, as a way of remembering her body and to creatively aid her transformation through double mastectomy. Eighteen months later I photographed her again.
I have always been interested in notions of idealism and beauty in the female. For these sessions, my photographer’s eye and my feelings as a woman had to be equally engaged. Clare’s determination to accept and love her body through drastic change has been an inspiration to me. Her clear, powerful voice speaks across the prejudices of our image-obsessed society.
I wanted to capture the beauty, courage, loss and hope I saw in Clare, both before and after her operation.’