Exhibition Review: The SCAR Project

“It’s not always pink ribbons and charity runs. Breast cancer is often glamourised and commercialised.” – Vanessa T (October 15, 1981- February 23, 2014)

Upon viewing the first photograph of David Jay’s The SCAR Project, a portrait of a young girl named Leah P standing aside a large Lady Gaga ‘Born This Way’ poster, my initial reflex is to look away. Bare chested amidst a nook of music posters – the kind we all remember every time we spy the blu-tac remnants on our walls – I feel that I have trespassed upon a private, intimate moment. But then I see her eyes gazing back, the way almost all of the women in the photographs look back, and realise that whilst intimate, these portraits are moments of purposeful display. The SCAR Project, which was nominated for Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography in 2011, and is being shown for the first time in Australia, is an exhibition of 26 young women’s experiences of breast cancer. The exhibition fills the elegant 7th level of the David Jones department store in the Sydney city. David Jay, who has worked extensively in the fashion industry, photographs with a command of the portrait form, demonstrating a sensitivity to lighting and depth of field. Amidst the tall, ornate windows and stately pillars, the large portraits are displayed with space to breathe. This spacious display is advantageous as each of Jay’s photographs are commanding, and crowds can form around particular images as people contemplate each woman and her story.

Beginning the SCAR Project whilst living in Sydney, Jay first shot his close friend Paulina in Bondi. Paulina, who had worked as a model, looks a vision of chic nonchalance akin to a 1990’s Calvin Klein advertisement. All except for the fact that she has a scar across her chest, indicating her mastectomy. Similarly, it is the women’s personalities or individual style that stands out in many of the images – the scars on the chests prominent, but certainly not all-encompassing. Many women partook in the SCAR Project as a way of supporting other women with the disease, whilst for others it was an experience which boosted their confidence. But what does it mean for us, we who have not experienced the disease ourselves, to look at these images? On one hand, reading and seeing how each woman has battled, accepted, grown, or learnt throughout their experience of diagnosis  is striking and humbling. However, on another hand we are asked to consider the very loaded terms of femininity, youth, sexuality, and breast cancer at large. As Vanessa T comments in the accompanying booklet (each woman has written about their experience): “it’s not always pink ribbons and charity runs.”

Paulina M and Leah P – photographs by David Jay (images from http://www.thescarproject.org) —– The SCAR Project Level 7, David Jones, Elizabeth st, Sydney Dates: 11 – 21 September 2014 Open during store trading hours: Sun–Wed 9.30am–7pm; Thu & Fri 9.30am–9pm; Sat 9am–7pm