CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Photographer James Anshutz is bringing survivors of breast cancer into the limelight with his exhibit "Portraits of Survival."
Greek myths are archetypal stories for us because the gods who tackle conflict come away with glorious victories or abysmal failures that, though grandiose in scale, parallel the internal human experience of life's lessons learned. Like Odysseus battling the Cyclops, the everyman (or everywoman) can discover untapped strength and latent depths of humanity while facing overwhelming challenge.
'Portraits of Survival'
» On exhibit: Through October
» Place: The Cathedral Gallery, Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, 1184 Bishop St.
» Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, and 4 to 6 p.m. Saturdays
» Call: 536-7036
» Also: Exhibit opens 5 to 9 p.m. Friday during First Friday gallery walk; images will also be on display that night at Chinatown Courtyard.
Photographer James Anshutz has been working to reveal that inspired power in breast cancer survivors though "Portraits of Survival," an exhibit featuring photographs of 27 women. The show opens on First Friday at the Cathedral Gallery and Chinatown Courtyard and continues through October at the gallery. Part of the proceeds from the exhibit, generated through sales of the photography and donations from visitors, will go to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
Anshutz says the pictures, which range from formal family portraits and on-location shots to fantasy glamour photography, express the spirit of support that carried survivors through their battles with cancer.
"The women shared their (visions), and we tried to create what they're trying to express," he says. "Some women wanted a picture with their support groups -- one woman wanted her church group, one wanted her oncologists. Another danced with her halau. One woman is a taiko drummer, and we're taking her picture at an old Japanese temple.
"This is a collaboration," says Anshutz. "I enjoy that the shots range from family portraits to, 'How crazy can we get?'"
For those, Anshutz enlisted the help of Salon 808 owner Henry Ramirez, who provided hair and makeup for the fantasy shots.
"That was right up our alley," says Ramirez, who volunteered his services, along with 11 members of his salon. His staff regularly takes courses on hair and makeup, including theater makeup, and works on clients for such events as the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest, Merrie Monarch hula festival, Miss USA pageant and Miss America pageant.
"It's kind of exciting when a housewife or a construction worker or a business person literally becomes a star," says volunteer Dennis Guillermo, an independent stylist who works in the salon.
"When you survive something like breast cancer, every day's an experience," Ramirez says. "We try to illustrate that."
COURTESY JAMES ANSHUTZ
Two women sharing their vision are Suzanne Ditter...
COURTESY JAMES ANSHUTZ
...and Deb Lamb. Both portraits were taken by Anshutz.
Faces of fortitude
Volunteers stage portraits of cancer patients' strength
In the give-and-take of negotiating life, the perspective is usually from nose to grindstone, as we struggle to get through another day, another week, another project. But sometimes, if you look up and around, you'll find moments in which you can simply give, without the reflexive expectation of taking something back. For at least a couple of those who have done so, the results have been powerful -- not only for the cause they're serving, but for themselves, as well.
James Anshutz is one such person. The professional photographer paid a visit to Hawaii Theatre not long ago and saw a photo exhibit that knocked him off his feet. The images were of topless breast cancer survivors displaying the scars of the battle they'd been fighting.
"It was so powerful," says Anshutz, and the intensity of his reaction inspired him to pursue his own photography project to spark breast cancer awareness.
But Anshutz aimed for a different reaction.
"I wanted to do something more empowering," he says. "Instead of feeling, 'That's heavy,' I wanted the show to be inspirational."
So Anshutz decided to present survivors in portraits that conveyed strength and optimism.
For all his enthusiasm, though, Anshutz was a bit cowed by the financial expenses he envisioned. But he forged ahead, with the help of his wife, Cara, who organized sponsorships. And as it turns out, Anshutz says, it's been "relatively easy" to find sponsors. "They like the concept."
The upshot is "Portraits of Survival," a photographic exhibit that opens at the Cathedral Gallery and Chinatown Courtyard at the First Friday gallery walk this week. Some 27 survivors contacted Anshutz after hearing about the project, mostly through word of mouth.
Their portraits show the women in all sorts of creative settings. Some chose to pose with supporters who saw them through the rough times; others decided on glamorous head shots. In each case the women themselves selected the kind of portrait they wanted.
"These survivors want to show that life goes on," says Anshutz. "It's rough but their careers and hobbies continue. It's an ongoing state."
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dennis Guillermo works on breast cancer survivor Madeline Scherman at Salon 808.
Henry Ramirez was one of those who stepped up when Anshutz sought volunteers. Owner of Salon 808 for nearly 20 years, Ramirez already has a history of helping breast cancer patients by providing wigs for those undergoing treatment.
"In 1999 a patient walked in for a wig, and it was not the best experience for her or for me, but I vowed that it would be better the next time. So I did research," he says.
Today, Ramirez takes up to three clients a day who need wigs -- four if he needs to fit in a woman from a neighbor island. He provides the $65-to-$85 wigs for $15, with adjustments to ensure a just-right fit.
"I feel great joy by helping, and my profession leads right into it."
Ramirez understands that the wigs are much more than simply a replacement for hair -- they're a source of self-esteem and hope.
"When they see the hair coming back, maybe they see life coming back, too," he says.
For "Portraits of Survival," Ramirez and 11 volunteers from Salon 808 offered hair and makeup services.
In brainstorming meetings the staff decided that fabric to drape over the women would be the best way to achieve the dramatic results they were looking for. They selected material in vibrant hues of orange, red, blue, green and purple. Some fabrics were sparkly; others were silky and luxurious to the touch. All were deep, dramatic colors. No pastels here.
Of equal importance was the symbolic significance that fabric would carry. "Fabric, to me, shelters, covers, protects us," says Ramirez. "It gives us our identity, tells us who we are through color and the kind of fabric it is."
To top it off, "They all must wear wigs -- because they all experienced that."
Stylists and clients did not meet beforehand. "It's very creative and exciting," Ramirez says. "But the most exciting thing is when the women see the final results. They get so excited and their husbands don't recognize them. They just have a good time being part of it."
One special moment, though, involved not a survivor, but a volunteer. Ramirez surprised the woman with a glamour shot of her own, speaking admiringly of her selfless giving. "She runs errands. She gets water and food. She volunteers to do anything," he gushes. "So this is to give back to her.
"The message here is, Other people can be her, too. They can choose to support others, too."
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Claire Tong, 44, a mother of two sons, has survived two bouts with breast cancer at ages 28 and 32. Also pictured is Mikey Gonhata.
An ensemble of support helped taiko drummer march ahead
Claire Tong had been rather quiet about her two bouts with breast cancer, the second of which took place 13 years ago. But work on various hospital projects re-convinced her of the importance of awareness and led to her participation in "Portraits of Survival."
Tong, director of communications and marketing for Hawaii Pacific Health, wanted her portrait to show her playing taiko alongside her sensei and two sons.
"Taiko is one of my hobbies, and my two boys are into it as well," she says. "Taiko is a very spiritual form of musical art. You need inner strength to play the taiko -- and that's the exact same thing you need to survive breast cancer.
"In taiko you play as a team. If you don't support each other, the performance cannot be great. And that's the exact feeling I had when I had cancer. My family and friend were so supportive."
Tong says that support, coupled with strength and the desire to overcome, were the keys to her recovery.
"The will to live, and my children, whom I had even though I wasn't supposed to be able to, keep challenging me. In my portrait are the kanji for 'chikara,' strength; 'gambare,' which means to keep going on; and 'kaizen,' change. Those were all the feelings I had when I was going through (breast cancer).
"And," she adds, "life is all about making the best of changes."
COURTESY JAMES ANSHUTZ
Breast cancer survivor Ginny Walden poses with her sculptures of a four-breasted woman that came to her in a dream.
Qi Gong made cancer treatment survivable for this sculptor
Artist Ginny Walden survived breast cancer so advanced doctors had predicted it would take her life within a year. That was in 1997.
"I'm a treatment survivor and a cancer victor," Walden says with conviction.
Walden's arduous cancer journey, laden with grueling, debilitating treatments, took her on a spiritual path that eventually led her to the practice of qi gong, a Chinese healing discipline that works with breath, postures and movement. Walden experienced astounding results.
"I went to a qi gong retreat just when I was about to have radiation," she says. "I was told to expect boils and burns on my body from the treatment."
Walden's qi gong master showed her a video of a man being healed by four teachers. "When the (radiation) beam comes down, imagine all those people around you," the master said. "Imagine the blue sky."
"In six weeks of radiation, I didn't even turn pink," she says.
Walden had found her way to give back. Today she is a teacher of qi gong.
James Anshutz's portrait of Walden shows her meditating amid sculptures she created, a radiant expression on her face.
"Art makes a bigger statement than words can. (Anshutz) is showing truth in a way that can only be done through art -- (he conveys) the feeling experienced in the heart," she says.
"What he's offering women is a chance to express themselves, a way for them to value themselves -- and that is the healing for breast cancer itself."