the art of losing

I photographed artist, Coco Larrain, at her home the day before she had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Coco documented her first experience with cancer 15 years ago through painting and drawing. “I’ve always done self-portraits and documenting myself going through the cancer treatment process helped me look at my body objectively and get outside of what I was feeling,” she says. While she still plans to use art to process her current experience with cancer, she felt having someone else photograph her before her surgery would be helpful.

While I was in Morocco a few weeks ago, I received an email from Coco Larrain, a wonderful artist I know on Cape Cod. She told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time and was going be having a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Could I do some portraits of her before the operation, she asked. A few days after I returned from my trip and literally the day before Coco’s surgery, I photographed her at her home.

The experience of photographing Coco surprised me. She was unflinching and vulnerable at the same time and I left struck by the enormity of what she was about to go through. I had a sense that there was more to this than creating some “before” photos, both for myself and for her.

Coco had been diagnosed with breast cancer 15 years earlier and during her treatment, had documented her experience through drawings and paintings. “I’ve always done self-portraits and documenting myself going through the cancer treatment process helped me look at my body objectively and get outside of what I was feeling,” she says. “I think it helped me be more accepting,” she adds. One of her self-portraits from this time period ran on the cover of the American Journal of Nursing and other articles have been written about her and the connection between art and healing.

While Coco had taken some photos of herself after the cancer reappeared recently, she thought having a professional photographer document her would be helpful. Inspired by our first session, I have since returned multiple times to photograph her. A few days ago, I posted a series of images in a private online gallery for Coco to see, slightly anxious about how she would experience them. I hoped that she would be able to see the powerful, brave woman I did.

When I picked up the phone the next morning and heard Coco’s voice, I realized she was crying. Concerned, I waited to hear if she was okay. “This is the first time I’ve cried during this whole process,” she said. She told me seeing herself through someone else’s perspective enabled her to really see what she’s gone through…and what she’s survived. I was so moved by Coco’s emotional response to the photos and touched that our collaboration could be healing for her. Below is some of Coco’s work from her first cancer experience.

Me Going Through Chemo, Chemo Going Through Me by Coco Larrain, oil on canvas

Inner Child Prays by Coco Larrain, oil on canvas

“You’ll Be Okay”, I said to the Mirror by Coco Larrain, charcoal pencil on matt board

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