In the winter of 2019 I began to lose my hair and eyebrows due to chemotherapy treatment. As an artist I became unmoored. My vision of myself had been altered as had the inside of my body. It took me 6 weeks to look at myself in the mirror, and when I finally did I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I was blank, like a sheet of copy paper.
When I finally came to terms with my baldness and my blankness, I began to explore self-portraiture. I treated my likeness like another person, like a subject I might see on the street and photograph. There was much experimentation, some good, some bad. I posted some of these early photos and brought many of the them to a photography salon I attend once a month. The members of the salon, all accomplished photographers and printers, liked the direction of the work, so I persevered.
At some point in my creative process I hit a wall. I new I couldn’t document bodily changes in the way Nancy Borowick documented her parents’ decline from cancer. I love those images, but the style wasn’t right for me. So I came up with an idea.
As a cancer patient, I knew people wanted to help me. Friends and relatives would reach out with food (which I couldn’t eat), juicers (which made me angry) and would leave multiple offerings of good will on my front porch: flowers, groceries, cards, books, blankets, and tokens of luck and wellness. The one thing they couldn’t do was engage. There were few conversations, only short syllables and blessings from God.
I learned long ago while living in a suburb of D.C., that if you want to throw a engaging get-together, one much create an activity for the guests. So with that in mind I created and activity for those who wanted to help me trudge my way through cancer: they could make hair for me.
I then set up a Facebook page and an Instagram account and began spreading the word. To date I have approximately 40 “heads.” Some I make, some are made by others. All are styled by me with thrift store finds, all shots are set up by me with the shutter snapped by Tom once I adjust the camera settings.
Cancer is bane of the control freak. Patients give their lives over to a team of doctors and nurses who know better than you. Part of the project mimicks that process, I give up some of the control of my artwork to others, and then in boomerangs back to me when I pose for the camera.
The materials for the heads vary from pottery to guitar string to corn silk to kale to pipe cleaners to exposed film to car mats. People seem to enjoy the process and it has given me great to joy to share these images with other chemo patients.
Some of the work is now hanging is now on view at Bob Korn Imaging and the Gallery Upstairs in Orleans. On October 1 six of the images will be hanging at the Yawkey Cancer Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. On September 20 I’m going to be interviewed for the nightly news by NBC10 Boston. My great hope for this project is that word spreads and more people make hair for me or for those in their lives who find themselves hairless.