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Breast Cancer Awareness Body Painting Project: A Fine Art & Photography Essay of Survivors

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Image Progression

"It is only in our grief where we find our true strength, find the courage to let go and to create beautiful possibilities for a fulfilling life. Art and photography is our way of letting go through acknowledgment." 

Photography isn't just about pictures of luscious landscapes, sensuous sunsets, bouncy babies and beautiful blushing brides. Photography, like all art, has the power to empower. To encourage. To create possibilities. To heal wounds. This is the vision of one spectacular artist photographer, Michael Colanero. 

Michael was born in Buffalo, New York and grew up in and around the suburbs of Philadelphia. Michael started his career as a Artist, Graphic Designer and Photographer. Seven years ago he opened up the UNCOMMON Gallery in Fort Lauderdale to provide the local community with a venue to exhibit and sell their artistic work, and to provide creative services.

"I very much wanted the gallery to remove for others, so many of the obstacles that made it hard for me to get out there and show my work. To that end I wanted to create a gallery environment where both emerging and established artists could showcase and promote their work. I wanted to create not just a gallery but a community of people that could appreciate those works as well as socialize and network too."

It was within this network that the Breast Cancer Awareness Body Painting Project: A Fine Art & Photography Essay of Survivors was born.

This eloquent and awakening collaboration consists of breast cancer survivors who have their bare torso body painted in the most ethereal ways by the very talented body painter Keegan Hitchcock and Luci Ungerbuehler and then photographed by Michael. "At this point I pick the best images of the series of each model and start my digital artistry on them - creating images that are both visually engaging and thought provoking."

With over 200 000 breast cancer diagnoses each year in the US, Michael's aim with this project in hand is to "reach in all the directions it needs to, to make the biggest difference to those who need it most - financially, emotionally and spiritually."

Tongue-in-cheek, Michael whimsically states that he hopes his imagination can keep up with the positive impact and reach of the project - in many ways it has already done so much more then he could ever have anticipated and in ways he never expected.

Where to from here? Well Michael is very interested in getting the images into hospitals, doctors offices, plastic surgery clinics, oncology centers and the like.

"I and these wonderful women want to do all we can to alleviate stress and worry and to encourage others still on their path with this disease. One survivor participant told me she so wished she could of seen these images before her surgery and that being butchered was one of her biggest fears. To see a positive image of women who have come thru the battle would of been something very helpful for her and she hopes her images can do that for someone else. In fact its one of her main reasons for getting involved - the giving spirit and selflessness of these women in the project has been a privilege to be around."

 All of the women (and at least one or two men - yes men get it too) are breast cancer survivors and carry the stories to go with that badge of honor. All women of all ages and backgrounds at various stages of their journey - that being - Pre, Post or non-reconstructive are involved in this project. These are all women who volunteered to be a part of this project for various reasons. The nudity required is tasteful and is not used for impact but rather to emphasize the human nature and form. Their human figures tell a story - like the hands of a worker show their history. 

Each image is custom designed and tailored to the participating survivor. Their design symbolizes something important to them or their personality and relates to the larger story of a breast cancer survivor. Many of the images have layers of details that could be missed if not mentioned.

Ribbon In the Sky - Cindy Papale 

Ribbon in the Sky - Cindy Papale                                 The Year That Was - Sylvie

Take Cindy's image, "Ribbon in the Sky" - the ribbon wraps around the breast that she had breast cancer in. She had her remaining breast removed prophylactically to avoid a reoccurrence. Removing a healthy breast either for prevention or for genetic factors is not uncommon.

Sylvie's image, "The Year That Was" features several elements that contribute to her story. Her c-section scar was left in the image because it represented being there for her son who was a big part of her motivation for cancer survival. The numbers representing the days of the year are all over her body and the numbers right on her scar mark the month and day of her sons birth.

Journey - Pamela Embury                                              Phoenix Rising - Gillian Brill

With Pamela's image, "Journey" you can still see the sutures in her left breast only weeks after her reconstruction surgery. This image shows the incredibly long journey she's been on and that she is almost there. She can see the rainbow.

Gillian's image, "Phoenix Rising" is for her the epitome of cancer survival. Like the Phoenix, Gillian encompasses a fiery spirit and a colorful way of being. Her cancer was like that of the Phoenix's lifespan which lasts a long time, but once it ceases to exist, her survival is like that of the new Phoenix rising - powerful and majestic.

Daylilies at Night - Anon          Bamboo & Butterflies -  Ellen     Skye's the Limit - Victoria

The BCABPP is a work in progress. So far it has taken a little over a year and a half to locate, design, and paint/photograph and digitally edit 21 women. It's a very time consuming labor of love. Most of the images have between 40 to 90 hours of work in them and a few of the images have over 300 hours of work in them.  Michael has a target of 50 survivors in mind and expects it will continue to grow and evolve over the next year to year and a half. 

If you are interested in participating in this project email Michael Colanero.

All these pieces are for sale with 100% of the profits going to the Kristy Lasch Miracle Foundation - helping woman under 30 with medical expenses incurred by breast cancer.

Follow the BCABPP on TwitterFacebook and YouTube.

Comments

  • Jolene 4 years ago

    What an awesome project. Unique. Unforgettable.

  • Jamie Inman 4 years ago

    I LOVE this project. I am a two-time survivor and will be posing for it next week. Thank you so much for doing such a wonderful job telling this story.

  • Valerie 4 years ago

    Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do with this project. It is a beautiful thing for me to not only see the strength and courage within each and every bc survivor but to know that I am part of this beauty too.

  • Nicole 4 years ago

    I am so grateful to have this opportunity to be a part of this project. I am 28 and just completed my first year of being a breast cancer survivor. I found strength within myself I didnt know I had. I admire all of the strong survivors out there for your courage. Congrats to us all

  • Melanie 4 years ago

    I was honored to have had the privilege of participating in this amazing project. The experience was transcendental for me... it gave me a newfound strength; it transformed me in a way that is difficult to express into words. When I was battling breast cancer, I felt like the disease was stealing bits of me every day. As Keegan painted this amazing cosmic landscape onto me, I began to watch my scarred body turn into a thing of beauty. And as Michael was shooting the photos I began to realize that cancer didn't steal my beauty, and that it could never tarnish my soul. I will be forever grateful to Keegan and Michael for giving me the opportunity to participate in this incredible project.

  • Melanie 4 years ago

    I was honored to have had the privilege of participating in this amazing project. The experience was transcendental for me... it gave me a newfound strength; it transformed me in a way that is difficult to express into words. When I was battling breast cancer, I felt like the disease was stealing bits of me every day. As Keegan painted this amazing cosmic landscape onto me, I began to watch my scarred body turn into a thing of beauty. And as Michael was shooting the photos I began to realize that cancer didn't steal my beauty, and that it could never tarnish my soul. I will be forever grateful to Keegan and Michael for giving me the opportunity to participate in this incredible project.

  • Cindy Papale 4 years ago

    When I first met Michael via Facebook and through my ex-husband's nephew, we began chatting about things in life that has lead us to where we are today. I told Michael that I am a breast cancer survivor and author to a book The Empty Cup Runneth Over. The rest is history. As lead model and project corner stone to BCABPP, I am honored to be part of an amazing project that will help inspire so many other breast cancer survivors. Special thanks to Michael for his compassion and talent helping all survivors as well as to Keegan Hitchcock who painted my body on that early morning in May. As the paint hit my body I thought back to the day I was wheeled into the operating room knowing that I would be loosing my breats for every. It is through this fantastic project (BCABPP) that I know "There is life after breast cancer."

    Cindy Papale/author/breast cancer survivor

  • Maria Alejandra Santaella 4 years ago

    I Just want to share what I wrote to Michael the day after the paiting and shooting ... Michael I could never thank you enough for letting me be part of the project … since the first time we wrote to each other there was no doubt in my mind that this was a good idea, but to be honest I saw it more like “what can I do to help others”, it never occurred to me that it could be so empowering to the women that are lucky enough to be part of it … Watching Doris “walk” the road yesterday made me realize the struggle she is going through, even nine years after, and watching her raising over her fears, holding her sister’s hand, was priceless to me, and allowed me to enjoy what I was doing, not only for others, but for me too. When Keegan brought out the warrior inside me, I was simply happy.
    Your team is just amazing, needless to say your talents as artists are too. I had a great day, not only for the project itself, but because I spent it with loving, caring and involved people ...

  • Mandy 4 years ago

    This is a great project! It's amazing how art can heal! And the art work is amazing! I love looking at them to try figure out the stories! Really beautiful guys! Great article!

  • Grace Peters 4 years ago

    This is truly a magnificent project. I never thought that photography and art could be used in this way until now.