By Taylor Stone
In art and entertainment, the topic of cancer or illness has been dealt with in countless and distinct ways. Often humorous, sad, or uplifting, it is a subject that is both familiar and startling.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, BMC opened a new exhibition, “The Healing Image Project: Photographic Collaborations with Elizabeth Branwell, located on the second floor of Canaday Library and running from Oct. 6 through Dec. 22. It is supported by the Friends of the Bryn Mawr College Library and the Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research.
“The Healing Image Project” features the work of Minneapolis photographer Elizabeth Barnwell, whose work explores the nature of healing as a human and spiritual trait. The exhibition consists of life-sized photographs and personal accounts of survivors of significant health challenges, several of whom have fought breast cancer.
The exhibition is the result of 15 months of collaboration with the people included in the exhibit: those who have both survived life-threatening obstacles but have gone on living truly full lives. Each person included had a unique and resonating tale to tell: demonstrated by his or her photos taken by Branwell as well as through poem or prose.
One photo that particularly struck me was on of Rob Ring. He sits in a meditative pose, his bare chest revealing his vulnerability and his facial expression revealing a calm, accepting disposition. Indeed, his personal story clearly relates to such details. Having separated his pelvic muscles and tearing a disc in a lumber spine while making an arrest as a police officer, he endured months of physical therapy and pain. He eventually was drawn to meditation as a respite to truly connect with the untapped wisdom and beauty of the world.Another photograph that I connected with was of the photographer herself. She is the subject- holding a camera to her face and positioning a sharp object near her eye: perhaps a symbol of her acute pain or of her perception. She tells of her personal history with serious migraines and her husband’s prescription amphetamines. Through it all, she believes that the stories of people afflicted with illness shows us the best of what it means to be alive.
In the press release of the exhibition, Branwell further explains what it means to explore the personal journey of a person afflicted with illness.
“When one is diagnosed in the middle of life with a particular disease, it is as if one is plucked from the general population and categorized by physical characteristics that have emotional and life altering consequences,” Branwell said. “When a person moves through facing death and continues to live, universal themes that cross individual diagnosis emerge and the individual becomes part of a collective of teachers with knowledge of secrets to living well.”
This particular “collective of teachers” featured in the exhibit offers a range of lessons: from living life to the fullest, finding beauty in pain, and the need to create your own joy. Their photographs, depicting its subjects in poses and facial expressions that reveal their acceptance and happiness, as well as their sadness and prior pain.
“The Healing Image Project” is a poignant, deeply resonating exhibition that is not to be missed. Exhibition hours are 9:00 am – 4:30 pm Monday – Friday, and 12:00 – 4:30 pm Saturdays. The exhibition is free and open to the public.