Documenting Women’s Postoperative Bodies: Knowing Stephanie and “Remembering Stephanie” as Collaborative Cancer Narratives

Abstract

Photographic representations of women living with or beyond breast cancer have gained prominence in recent decades. Postmillennial visual narratives are both documentary projects and dialogic sites of self-construction and reader-viewer witness. After a brief overview of 30 years of breast cancer photography, this essay analyzes a collaborative photo-documentary by Stephanie Byram and Charlee Brodsky, Knowing Stephanie (2003), and a memorial photographic essay by Brodsky written ten years after Byram’s death, “Remembering Stephanie” (2014). The ethics of representing women’s postsurgical bodies and opportunities for reader-viewers to engage in “productive looking” (Kaja Silverman’s concept) are the focal issues under consideration.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    According to the website of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, 226,870 cases of invasive breast cancer and 63,300 cases of noninvasive carcinoma in situ were estimated in the United States for 2012 and 39,300 women were expected to die of this disease. See www.komen.org/breastcancer/statistics.html. Worldwide breast cancer rates are rising rapidly, and current projections posit that five years from now 70 percent of all new cases will be in developing countries (Kingsbury 2007, 36–43).

  2. 2.

    For more information on Matuschka’s life and work, see “The Body Beautiful” (Matuschka 2008), Cartwright (2000, 126–131), and Dykstra (1995). To view Matuschka’s photographs, visit http://www.matuschka.net/homepage.html.

  3. 3.

    To view the photograph of Metzger by Hammid, visit http://www.deenametzger.com and click on “Tree.”

  4. 4.

    For further discussion of Metzger and this photograph’s feminist history, see Cartwright (2000) and Dykstra (1995).

  5. 5.

    For more information on Spence’s life and work, see Cultural Sniping and Putting Myself in the Picture (Spence 1995a); for theorization of her photographs, see Dykstra (1995). To view Spence’s photographs, visit the Jo Spence Memorial Archive at http://www.hosted.aware.easynet.co.uk/jospence/jo1/htm.

  6. 6.

    Brodsky and Byram discussed their collaboration in a 1994 interview with David Demarest (“At Charlee’s House”). They also collaborated on an Emmy-awarding winning documentary film, Stephanie: A Story of Transformation, produced by Mary Rawson and shown nationally on PBS in October 2000.

  7. 7.

    In Vulnerable Subjects, Couser advocates “principalism” as a guideline for evaluating biographical or visual representations of vulnerable subjects, defined as “respect for autonomy, beneficence, and justice” (2004, preface).

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Correspondence to Mary K. DeShazer.

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DeShazer, M.K. Documenting Women’s Postoperative Bodies: Knowing Stephanie and “Remembering Stephanie” as Collaborative Cancer Narratives. Bioethical Inquiry 11, 445–454 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-014-9582-8

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Keywords

  • Breast cancer narratives
  • Memorial photography
  • Artistic collaboration
  • Visual culture
  • Productive looking