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


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  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 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

  3. 3.

    To view the photograph of Metzger by Hammid, visit 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

  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).


  1. Adams, T.D. 2000. Light writing and life writing: Photography in autobiography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Barthes, R. 1980. Camera lucida: Reflections on photography. Translated by R. Howard. New York: Noonday Press.

  3. Blackburn, A. 2008. Caring for Cynthia: A caregiver’s journey through breast cancer. San Rafael, CA: Verve Editions.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Brodsky, C. 2014. Remembering Stephanie. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 11(4). doi:10.1007/s11673-014-9584-6.

  5. Brodsky, C., and S. Byram. 2003. Knowing Stephanie. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Cartwright, L. 2000. Community and the public body in breast cancer media activism. In Wild science: Reading feminism, medicine and the media, edited by J. Marchessault and K. Sawchuk, 120–138. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Couser, G.T. 2004. Vulnerable subjects: Ethics and life writing. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Davis, A. 2000. The first look. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Demarest, D. 1994. At Charlee’s house. Accessed May 23, 2012.

  10. DeShazer, M.K. 2005. Fractured borders: Reading women’s cancer literature. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  11. DeShazer, M.K. 2013. Mammographies: The cultural discourses of breast cancer narratives. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Dykstra, J.1995. Putting herself in the picture: Autobiographical images of illness and the body. Afterimage 23(2): 16–20.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Ferraro, S. 1993. The anguished politics of breast cancer. The New York Times Magazine, August 15, 24–27, 58–62.

  14. Hirsch, M. 1997. Family frames: Photography, narrative, and postmemory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Jay, D. 2011. The SCAR project: Breast cancer is not a pink ribbon, volume 1.

  16. Kingsbury, K. 2007. The changing face of breast cancer. Time, October 15, 36–43.

  17. Matuschka. 1993. Why I did it. Glamour, November. Accessed July 3, 2014.

  18. Matuschka. 2008. The body beautiful. MAMM, September/October. Accessed July 3, 2014

  19. Metzger, D. 1978. Tree. Culver City, CA: Peace Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Mitchell, W.J.T. 1994. Picture theory: Essays on verbal and visual representation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Myers, A. 1996. Winged victory: Altered images transcending breast cancer. San Diego: Photographic Gallery of Fine Art Books.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Nikpay, J. 2006. Heroines: Transformations in the face of breast cancer. Minneapolis: Pilgrim Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Pollock, G. 2008. Dying, seeing, feeling: Transforming the ethical space of feminist aesthetics. In The life and death of images: Ethics and aesthetics, edited by D. Costello and D. Willsdon, 213–235. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Rawson, M., producer, and C. Brodsky, director. 2000. Stephanie: A story of transformation. Pittsburgh: WQED/WQEX.

  25. Saltzman, L. 2006. Making memory matter: Strategies of remembrance in contemporary art. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Silverman, K. 1996. The threshold of the visible world. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Sontag, S. 1977. On photography. New York: Dell.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Spence, J. 1995a. Cultural sniping: The art of transgression. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Spence, J. 1995b. “Marked up for amputation” and “Property of Jo Spence?” Jo Spence website. Accessed July 3, 2014.

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mary K. DeShazer.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

DeShazer, M.K. Documenting Women’s Postoperative Bodies: Knowing Stephanie and “Remembering Stephanie” as Collaborative Cancer Narratives. Bioethical Inquiry 11, 445–454 (2014).

Download citation


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