Friday, October 14, 2011

canSURVIVE story

As most of you might know, canSURVIVE (my annual gallery stroll/gala event)  is coming up in November. This is the 3rd year for the gallery and I couldn't be more excited!! The cancer survivors we've photographed this year are amazing, including Nurse Kate whose portrait is featured on the invitations.  

For those of you who don't know anything about canSURVIVE, I'll give you the background. canSURVIVE  is a brain child of my wife, Heather, and myself. Ever since I was a child I wanted to photograph things that had great meaning. War zone photography was very appealing to me because I knew that's where some of the most powerful images could be captured. I learned rather quickly I wasn't cut from the same cloth as war zone photographers. Heather suggested photographing cancer survivors. This immediately resonated with me. In 1997 I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and the year prior, Heather lost her mother, Karen, to ovarian cancer. We felt strongly this is what we should devote a lot of our time to. We decided that it would be best if it were more than just a gallery stroll, but also something that could benefit a cancer organization.

We selected Needs Beyond Medicine (formerly UCREW), to benefit from any proceeds that could be generated by the event. NBM is different than a lot of other cancer organizations in that it provides funds to people going through cancer treatment to cover non-medical expenses. We brought the concept to Phil Brown, executive director of NBM, and he jumped all over it… and took it over! Phil has worked tirelessly since 2009, finding venues, sponsors, helping design promotional materials, but most importantly, finding survivors willing to tell their stories and be photographed. Phil is very passionate about helping people with cancer, and has also been deeply impacted by the disease.

In 2009 Cynthia Griffin, a good friend of mine, was the first to be photographed.  I'm happy I started with her because her story set the tone for all future galleries. I first photographed her against a black backdrop, which turned out beautiful, but after photographing several people, we decided to change direction and photograph people in an environment, (usually their own but not always); we figured this would help tell more of their story.

The first gallery stroll/ fundraiser was in September 2009 at the Depot in downtown Salt Lake City. Seeing the responses to the photos and watching people reading the stories with tears rolling down their cheeks was the moment that made me realize, maybe I had done something good with my life and that I wanted to shoot this gallery for as many years as I could.  

The second year’s gallery was at Noah’s in South Jordan. This turned out to be a great venue. I just loved watching the survivors look at their photos and take them in. The majority of the survivors stayed the entire duration of the gallery speaking with other survivors (it almost felt like a therapy session).  canSURVIVE 2010 Event Video, with interviews

I photographed a man named Michael Carnley in 2009. He was a great guy, super nice and very articulate. I can't remember exactly the name of the cancer he had but it was a melanoma on his brain. We photographed him for the 2009 gallery. He was cancer free at the time we photographed him. A year later we heard the cancer had returned and caused him to have a stroke. We decided if he was willing, we'd like to photograph him for the 2010 gallery. When we photographed him, he was still battling his cancer and was a little worse for the wear but was in good spirits, (to Phil and I it looked like he hadn't missed a beat, as happy and kind as ever). He was at the gallery in 2010 and did an interview for a video we had done.  Unfortunately he passed away a month later. At his viewing, the large prints we had made of Mike were on display. His wife gave me a big hug and thanked me for taking the photos. This made all of the work we put into shooting these photos worth it.  

2011 promises to be a good showing. With every year comes changes to the layout of the gallery. This year there is no door charge, there will be chances to donate throughout the evening. The venue for this year is the Marriott downtown on State Street, and will be a perfect home for the pictures and stories of survivors. The survivors we photographed are as amazing as ever. I'm very anxious to see the response to the stories. As always, I hope above anything else, I captured a photo that represents them the best.  

I hope to see you there!

November 4,  5 p.m. to 10 p.m. 
Marriott City Center 220 South State St. SLC, UT.