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The courage to persist: a lesbian photographer documents her wife's mastectomy and recovery.

When I recently visited Taos, N.M., I met the lesbian creative couple Kathleen Brennan and Kat Duff. Brennan is a documentarian and a photographer, Duff is an author. She is also a breast cancer survivor.

In 2003, when Duff was diagnosed with breast cancer, Brennan documented her physical and emotional journey with photographic portraits in the style of American photographers Edward Steichen and Diane Arbus.

"I think for Kat this was a way to remember her breast, her body as she knew it all her life. Photographing the changes her body was going through was as much for my dealing with her loss as it was for her," Brennan wrote in the catalogue for the 2004 exhibition "In Praise of What Persists" at the Harwood Museum of Art, Taos.

After the photos were completed, Brennan says that Duff had returned to her vital self. "She looked like a beautiful butterfly emerging from her cocoon to express her new body. These pictures are about the triumph of the human spirit, regardless of what is happening, even in the face of death."

Duff, the subject of these images, which some may find confronting, had a lot to come to terms with: "I don't get cancer! I may get other things, but I don't get cancer," she recalls thinking. Then came the reality of losing a breast (and later losing the other, too), and dealing with "the unsettling residue of surgery."

"People tell me I'm brave to allow these photographs to be shown," says Duff. "To me it's not that brave. Brave is facing the needles and knives of cancer treatment. Brave is caring for a loved one losing parts of herself, a loved one you might lose. Now I look around me and see so many, many people with the courage to persist through life's ravages and love among life's uncertainties. It's the human miracle."



Please note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.

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Author:Johns, Merryn
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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