Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happy Birthday

When Jodie was 5, she told her mother she wouldn't live past 35. Last Friday, Jodie turned 35. She has Stage IV breast cancer, and is hoping this last chance chemo might buy more time.

I met Jodie a few years ago at an opening of my photographs in the city. A friend of a friend directed her to my site after she was diagnosed. We hit it off and began to spend some time together. She moved to LA for work and I visited her while there for a week long shoot. She showed me her art work that she kept beneath her bed in a dog crate. I was immediately drawn to it. Tight doodles, lines, curves and curls working together to make a larger image. What kind of mind could produce this? Hours of work, huddled over paper, marking, scribbling, doodling. I was intrigued.

A year or so later, Jodie was diagnosed with a recurrence of the original cancer. It went to her liver and lungs. Over time, the disease progressed and she was unable to continue working and living on her own. She has been bravely enduring chemo, radiation and an every 4 hour regimen of pills. Still, the cancer progressed to her brain and now...inside of her lungs, making it difficult to breathe and talk.

Her friends who are fiercely devoted to her, her twin brother and her parents gave her a party in Southampton last weekend. My partner and I were delighted to be invited. When we arrived, Jodie greeted us, we gave her a gift and chatted for a few moments. She and her mother decided it was best for her to rest a bit longer...before the party really begun. Later, when I checked my phone, there was a text from her apologizing for not being out front. That's Jodie. ALWAYS thinking of others, not wanting to impose or offend. I was blown away by this action. Really struck by it. Her selflessness at a time when it should be all about her. When everyone wants it to be all about her. She won't have it. Won't become something she's never been.

I try not to think about losing Jodie. It was clear at her party that so many people love her. Her best friend Karen at her side always. Never leaving. Attending to her in a way that only a best friend can. I try not to think about how Karen will feel or Josh, Jodie's twin. The host of the party, Tim and Jodie's parents, Stu and Deb. And me. Losing another person I love to breast cancer.

I've always wanted Jodie's work to be seen. Early on, she gave me a drawing of breast cancer she made. I framed it and hung it in my house. I think it was the first piece to be matted and framed. Something switched for her when she saw the piece in this completed state. She reluctantly agreed to be a part of a group show last fall. Two of three pieces sold. In honor of Jodie, there will be an opening of her work on October 23, 2009 at ART(that matters) in Oyster Bay, NY. This was my gift to her on her 35th birthday. Her work is her gift to me and you.

Monday, July 20, 2009

ART SHOW @ ART(that matters)

I'm not sure if it's clear from my site, but I co-own a space in Oyster Bay, NY that looks like a gallery, is a gallery at times...and so much more.  ART(that matters) is a place where artists come together for different events.  Photography classes and workshops are taught here.  Figure drawing occurs here. Guest speakers speak here.  Art and photography critiques take place here. A women's art group meets here and recently showed here.  The woman's group is comprised of 12 members.  All but three are painters.  Over the last 8 months, I've been inspired by these women to paint.  I've never painted before.  I bought a book which provided different lessons and projects.  When I got to the collage exercise, I found my niche.  I love getting my hands dirty, love being completely engrossed in what I'm making.  It's the same feeling I have when I am shooting.  Actually shooting.  Not the post production work of sitting at the computer for hours.  The physical part of the shoot.  Holding the camera in my hands, conversing with my subject, finding the light and most importantly, clicking the shutter.  There's nothing like clicking the shutter and knowing you got the shot.  

Painting is all absorbing like the shoot, but I never get the feeling of getting the shot.  It's an ongoing process for me.  When it feels complete, maybe it is and maybe it's not.  I don't know.  I don't know much about painting at all, other than it feels great to do it.

The Woman's Group planned a show, created a theme and got to work.  I asked Nada Marjanovich, the Editor and Publisher of the Long Island Pulse to curate the show.  Nada and I met last year, when I was selected as a VIP artist in the magazine.  She is the one that travels all over the island to see different artists work.  She has a great eye, is sophisticated and is well versed in the arts.  The theme of the show is squares.  We wanted a way to connect the work and incorporate each artists style into a viable show.  A member came up with the name "Thinking Inside the Box".  

Since Nada knew my work and we know one another, I thought it would be best for the work to be submitted anonymously. Artists could submit any number of pieces for selection.   At least 2 works were selected from each artist.  11 of my works were accepted and 5 sold. 

I can't tell you what it feels like to sell work.  My breast cancer photographs do not sell.  One sold. But in general, they do not sell.  They are not meant to sell.  They are meant to inform, educate, awaken, shock and hopefully make women know their bodies, go for their mammograms, do self breast exams and know their family breast cancer history. This work to me is my life's work.  It is intense, it is important, and I am compelled to do it.  

(More on compulsions in another entry)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Last month I traveled to Lockport NY to photograph a woman whose story intrigued me. Pamela was diagnosed with breast cancer, had treatment and a recurrence just after 5 years from her original diagnosis. As a result of the recurrence, she had a bilateral mastectomy with no reconstruction. One day at work, her supervisor told her she looked like a little girl without her breasts.

Embarrassed, angry and confused, Pamela filed charges and ultimately settled the case in her favor. Although she was OK with the outcome of case, she remained disturbed by the comment or rather the feeling that society requires women to have breasts. She decided to have reconstruction.

When I photographed Pamela, she already had tissue expanders. Tissue expanders are hard inflatable implants that are filled over time to the desired size. They stretch the skin or tissue to prepare it for the final implant. Surgery was scheduled for 8 AM on Saturday, April 4th. I photographed Pamela before and after the surgery. I arrived at her home just a few hours after the 2 hour surgery. I was amazed she looked so well. It was this shoot that produced the photograph here. When I sent Pamela the final version she had a violent physical reaction. She wrote:

It is powerful to see your self in a photograph. Over the last 7 years I was fearful to express how I felt about my body image. I felt incapable of giving my feelings. When I saw the photos taken by Christine, they penetrated my soul and took away the numbness I realized I had succumbed to. While on the outside I seemed accepting of this disease and "surviving", I really sense that this recurrence, and all the emotion that it brought, made me see myself as damaged, reluctant to accept that people loved me for me, exhausted and angry that I had to keep saying thank you when people told me I looked great and at the same time, happy that it was me with the disease and not my sisters. I have always seen myself as a strong woman. I feel I have survived so much and this disease, as embarrassing as it is, ravaged my body & in which I had little control. When the incident with my executive director took place, I knew the routes to take with authority & followed the chain of command, but in the end, I felt "dirty". Thus, I had the reconstruction of both breasts, which took me to a size A-B. The day of surgery I felt tired, but satisfied with the results. A week later, I started bleeding on the right side and oozing on the left. I became very ill and was given antibiotics for 10 days. After 6 weeks of infection and pain caused by the implants, I've decided to have them removed. SAY NO TO BOOBS! I have learned that I am me and I am okay with me, inside and out. While I still think about the comments made to me about not having breasts, I know they do not define me. I plan on living a happier life without worrying what others think as they pass me on the street. I know the real me and I surround myself with those who also know me, the real me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Practice Happiness

The last two weeks brought devastating news in my breast cancer community. Two of my friends are being tested for possible metastatic breast cancer. Another friend found out her cancer has advanced further in her body and another, Paula, was being kept comfortable at home. I found out on Facebook yesterday, that Paula died on April 6th.

This kind of news is not uncommon in my community. Gaining members and losing members can sometimes feel like the same emotion. Grief. It's the nature of the group. Nothing can be done about it except maybe distancing myself. Another friend...a non survivor often asks when I will do just that? When will I have enough? When is it enough? My answer: when my work is done or when I completely burn out. Whichever comes first. The thing is, I don't want to burn out. I don't want to get to the point where I just can't do it anymore. I can't show up in an email, the phone or in person. I've been working on allowing myself to feel as happy as I've allowed myself to feel as sad as I've had. I'm hoping the balance will enable me to stay in the game and not run from the stadium. This practice, this happiness practice works very effectively for the most part. I practice controlling my thoughts. I practice being in the moment. Everyday, I program my iPhone to ask me if I am allowing room for Happiness. I am allowing room now. I am making room now.

Then the news comes. Advanced cancer. Death. Am I making room for Happiness now? It seems more difficult. It is more difficult. I can easily go to that dark cancer place and start thinking about all those who have gone before me. Or, I can chose not to. I can acknowledge the sadness, the fear, the anger and then let it go. I can be in those emotions and come out of those emotions. Is it easy? No, it is a practice, and today, I am practicing really hard.

In memory of Paula Zoromski

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


My sister, originally uploaded by ibeholder.

Have you ever been obsessed with something? Love something for no apparent reason? I love text. Yes, text. Loving text doesn't mean I'm a graphic designer or that I can work with text at all. I just love it. I especially love text when it accompanies art.

For nearly 5 years, I've been photographing women with breast cancer. I have always intended this series to be a book. With text. I've been experimenting with text nearly as long as I've been photographing. Had a writer friend interview some of the women I photographed. Their stories are interesting, heart wrenching and inspiring. I decided however that whole stories about every woman in the series would be too much information. No one would be able to take it all in.

Next, I created a book using woman's names, age at diagnosis and stage IV status if applicable. This was too little information. Didn't tell enough of the story. The information seemed to distance people instead of bringing them in.

A couple of months ago, I enrolled in a workshop with Rob Goldman.

Rob is also obsessed with text and talked about the Post Secret Project. Post secret is a community based art project where people anonymously mail in post cards with their secrets written on them Rob encouraged the group to put text to their work. At first, I created a post secret of my own. It felt good to reveal something that's been on my mind for awhile. However I didn't see my project going in this direction. A couple of weeks later I was looking at a recent photograph I made and it came to me. The crux of her story summed up in one sentence. It feels right. It feels like what I have been searching for. It's true, it's smart, it adds another layer of meaning to the photograph.

I believe this will be the direction of my art for this particular project.

Let me know what you think...