Scars: Portraits of Personal Journeys

About the Project

About the project:
I was embarrassed by my scar. I had my gallbladder removed over twenty years ago when surgical procedures were not as sophisticated as they are today, and I was left with a six inch scar across my stomach. When I looked in a mirror, it looked to me like it ran across my entire torso, and it was the only thing I saw. I was very conscious of it and I was embarrassed to take off my shirt and afraid that people would see the scar as something hideous. I would cross my arms to strategically hide it when I went to the beach even though logically, I knew that the scar was not all that visible and that most people probably wouldn’t notice it.

Many years later, I started to study and practice contemplative photography. Contemplative photography has its roots in the Buddhist teaching of seeing things as they are, without preconceived notions, likes or dislikes. With continued practice, I started to look and see things around me differently and I began to see my scar just as it was, neither ugly nor beautiful. It was just a part of me. This is how this project came about.

I wanted to photograph people who had scars. Would they see these scars as they were? Neither ugly nor beautiful? I didn't know if anyone would be willing to be photographed showing their scar, nor how they would react to a request to pose for this project. In order to get a feel for people's reaction, I joined an online support group for people who had undergone, or were about to undergo heart bypass surgery. I asked how they would feel about posing for a portrait showing their scar and the responses were mixed: for some, it was a flat-out “no” and others said they might be willing. There were a few who said that posing for the portrait would be a part of their healing process, and one man said that he wore his scar as a badge of honour for surviving his ordeal.

Once I had an idea of what people’s response would be, I felt more prepared and I started looking for volunteers. At first, I was looking mostly for participants who had surgical scars. I had seen photographs of breast cancer survivors, but my thought was to include a broader range of people who had overcome many types of health challenges. Initially, my approach was more technical; participants would come in and I would take their photograph, somewhat like when they go to a doctor and have an x-ray taken. What I had not expected, but soon realized, was there were these amazing stories behind the scars, stories of how each person faced the challenges that they had been dealt. Meeting and working with each participant, listening to their stories, opened my eyes to great courage and dignity, and with each new participant, the scope of the project expanded and soon exceeded my expectations. The project that initially focused on surgical scars now includes participants who suffered burns, underwent liver transplants, car and motorcycle accidents, sports injuries, and even self harm. They came from all walks of life: teachers, lawyers, consultants, housewives, students, and retirees.

The portraits in Scars are not glamorized, there were no make-up artists or wardrobe specialists on-hand, nor are they created to shock the viewers. They are intended to show the natural beauty and dignity that comes from overcoming adversity. Each scar represents a story, a life experience, a victory. I realized that each participant found him or herself in a challenging and vulnerable situation, coming to have a very personal portrait made. For many of them, we were meeting for the first time. I knew it would be difficult for them to relax into the process, so we would start working and I would wait for the moment they would release their façade and reveal themselves. I am deeply grateful to each of them for putting their trust in me and allowing me to make their portrait.

Each portrait shows the person as they are.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson & Philippine Ambassador to Canada, Leslie Gatan, during the opening of the exhibition.

Comments on the exhibition:

"Quite arresting - beautifully lit photographs with soul" M.J.

"A powerful and triumphant display of positive body-image and self love. Bravo!" K.S.

"Powerful, inspiring....only great art can evoke great feelings & reaction" G.D.

"Astounding/Emotional/Amazing!!!" F.K.

"Such a beautiful collection of life histories and challenges" P.L.

"Oh wow...I am speechless" K.W.

Click here to listen to CBC Radio interview about the project (Sept. 2 ,2011)

Click here to listen to CBC Radio interview about the exhibition(October 11, 2012)