Sunday, July 22, 2012

Documenting the fight

When the woman he had married just 5 months earlier was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, Cleveland-born photographer Angelo Merendino used his skills and their intimacy to document the struggle. He was with her during every doctor's appointment, chemotherapy infusion, and hospital stay. His photos (above, watch slideshow on his website) capture moments of hope, exhaustion, empathy, and lack thereof - a starkly honest walk through the next few years, at the end of which Jennifer Merendino died. Recently, 50 of the black and white images were shown at The Gathering Place, a cancer support center in Westlake, Ohio. Beauty and truth were found in the photos by both critics and cancer patients. But a mere 6 days later, rather than the planned 10 weeks, the images have been taken down and handed back - with apologies - to the photographer and widower. Executive Director Eileen Saffran said that people were upset by them. Kristina Austin, director of community relations and marketing, called the exhibit "amazing and exceptionally powerful," but said, "We removed it because of the reaction of our participants." The reaction of the patients who use the center and the volunteers who work there - many of whom are cancer survivors - was "very emotional." Merendino understands that, but wonders why no one expressed concern upon reviewing the images last year when the exhibit was being planned. The photographer has stated, "Sadly, many people do not want to hear these realities; around the time of Jen’s re-diagnosis we felt that our support group was fading away. Other cancer survivors share this loss. People assume that treatment makes you better, that things become OK, that life goes back to 'normal.' However, there is no normal in cancer-land. Cancer survivors have to define a new sense of normal, often daily. And how can others understand what we have to live with everyday? We tried talking and when words came up short I turned to the only other way that I know to communicate - my camera. My photographs show this daily life. They show the fear, concern and sadness we face. They show the joy from the endearment of a friend. They show the deep love and trust between Jennifer and me. They humanize the face of cancer, on the face of my wife." Let's look.
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