As a young girl growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950’s, nothing was as closely associated with beauty as breasts, figure and hair. So a diagnosis of breast cancer and the double mastectomy and chemotherapy that followed struck at the very core of my bodily self-image. Despite years of rebelling against such conventional notions of beauty, I was forced to confront my own vanity along with the fear of my own mortality.
This series of self-portraits grew out of the need to transform, rather than document, illness and disfigurement. I used camera, computer, direct body scans and overlays to acquaint myself with my reconfigured body. The process of deconstruction and reconstruction of appearance and reality mirrored the physical process I was undergoing. On a deeper level each image provided a space in which to delve beneath the surface of the ordinary routines of the disease and its treatment and to re-imagine beauty.
From the beginning, I recognized the visual possibilities in the galaxy of calcifications that spread across the hospital monitor during a second biopsy; how could something so deadly appear so beautiful. At the same time, scars, physical imperfections and losing one’s hair seemed pretty pathetic concerns when held up to the possibility of losing life itself. Hence the need to turn bald/ugly into bald/new life. These images reveal the tension between the loss of physical adornment, or beauty, and the desire for existential beauty, which is life itself.
Misty Ericson holds a BA in English & Comparative Literature from San Jose State University, California, and an MA History of Art from University of Leeds, UK. In addition to her work on HerCircleEzine.com, which she founded in 2005, Misty enjoys painting in her studio and restoring her home in the English countryside.