It was 2011 – The Year of Little Deaths

I broke my arm, my boss broke my job, my dad died suddenly of pneumonia, and my mum died five weeks later of lung cancer. My husband punched and kicked me. My cat died. That was just the first five months; by the end of the year breast cancer number two had arrived, and so my breasts died too.

I ended my marriage the following year, and faced yet another cancer recurrence alone. I started the kind of aggressive chemotherapy that turns your mind and body into a slug, and by the end the accumulated side effects of thirty-odd years of cancer treatments left me with a shadow of the she I had been. During it all I also fought for my husband’s safety as we navigated his battle with alcohol, suicidal clinical depression and hospitalisation. Not the easiest of times.

In the pain of those years I wrote some of the poetry that truly birthed SHE, but also I came across Barbie Ritzco, who was photographed for the SCAR PROJECT by the extraordinary David Jay. Her image touched my soul.

And yet, much as I truly loved David’s beautiful portraits, most of them didn’t reflect the me I saw in the mirror every day.

I had been photographing myself after the bilateral - simply recording physical changes - but as time went on, I realised I was after something much deeper, more visceral. The thing was, people didn’t seem to see me the way I saw myself, the way I felt.

So I started looking at how I could show, not physical scars, but the pain of grief, loss, change, the angry and lonesome place of emotional trauma, the vulnerable moments when you feel utterly lost. The calm and stillness of healing. In real life.

I moved to Wiltshire in November 2014 and started to rebuild my life. By the time I was studying photography at college in Salisbury less than two years later, I had written the poem ‘The She Inside’ which is the touchstone of the whole SHE project.

It was a project I started because I had something I needed to say. Yes I am flat, and I’ll happily talk about that, but what this project tries to show you is what it is like to be me. Not the me you see or you think I am, but the one I see every day. From the inside. Healing emotionally is not a continuum, it takes, time, work and sometimes it goes backwards.

In 2017 I submitted a panel of images based on THE SHE INSIDE for my Royal Photographic Society Associateship. You can listen to an interview I did with Peter Hayes FRPS about that here and read more of the short form writing here


Statement of Intent

THE SHE INSIDE: Portraits of My Self

Survivors – of disease, war, abuse, loss - are often portrayed as proud scarred warriors. And we are, but this is not the everyday reality of our lives, nor does it reflect the emotional traumas we confront long after our bodies have healed.

As a survivor of four cancers (and heart failure) I am no stranger to corporeal destruction, so my decision to reject reconstruction and stay flat after my bilateral mastectomy was, perhaps, natural.

It was other life-changing, parallel events, including the breakdown of my marriage and the death of my parents, that did more visceral damage and, as I recovered, I questioned what it means to survive when everything you once were has gone.

Survival is not something you ‘get through’, it is simply what you are until you are not. I am changed, and must come to terms with what’s left - even if I sometimes feel like a living ghost, and often wonder that others can see me at all.

As a portrait photographer, I wanted to challenge how I see myself in contrast to how others perceive me, or the self I present to them; to explore identity and change, and to consider why I can make an image of myself that I recognise, yet others cannot.

Using self-portraiture was hugely challenging but it was the only truly authentic way to do this.

So here is a visual story of a She that is mine. I know intimately both her sadness and her resilience. Perhaps the true self is a fleeting ephemeral thing: perhaps there is no single self, only moments of now when we are the sum of the moments that went before.

All photographs are taken by me, alone.

The panel Images:

I still blog occasionally at he4dgirl.com. About Me is here, the medical stuff is here
Other mind and body parts on... Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedInFacebookInstagram
Advocacy groups I support: Flat Friends | Flat and Fabulous
The reason I have five cats: Streetkatz Rescue
And I have rebuilt and now run my village website keevilvillage.com