The Black & White of Prostate Cancer







Last week I went to a remarkable photo exhibition presented by PhotoSensitive and Prostate Cancer Canada. TIEd Together is a black-and-white multimedia exhibition that honours Canadians’ experiences with prostate cancer.

Photo Credit: Jason Strang

PhotoSensitive is a non-profit group of photographers whose mission is “to harness the power of the camera to achieve social goals…They believe an excellent photograph has the potential to effect social change, to make a difference, to expand a viewer’s field of vision.”

Photo Credit: Fred Chartrand

By exploring the experience of living with a life threatening illness PhotoSensitive opens a dialogue about difficult topics, creating communities of common experience, and exposing stories that would otherwise go unheard. They prove that creative expression through photography can have a social impact.

Its not evident enough in the exhibit that prostate cancer isn’t an old man’s disease. There’s only a few examples of young men like swim champ Alex Baumann and CBC Dragon Den star Brett Wilson who are in their forties.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, but my personal favourite is this one of a father and son. It’s so hopeful and speaks to the inclusiveness of the dad, the respect he has for his son, and the strong bond of shared honesty between the two. It moved me because a friend of mine had prostate cancer surgery over 4 years ago and still has yet to tell his son who is now 16. It made me wonder which scenario is more typical?

Photo Credit: Michele Taras

There are some famous and not-so-famous people. Our friend and author Dan Hennessesy, one of the photo subjects, relates to it this way:

“When I told people that I was in a photo exhibit with famous politicians, Olympic athletes and other hard working Canadians, they asked me if I was overwhelmed with the company that I was sharing the spotlight with. I told them that Prostate Cancer has no conscience and does not care who you are or what you do in your life, it just comes and when we get our Prostate exam, we all look the same from that angle.”

Photo Credit: Peter Bregg

Every male on the planet has a common enemy in prostate cancer. If I have any quibble with the exhibition it’s that it has the feeling of a veneer that’s smooth and pretty but obscures an underlying agitation. What I didn’t come away with was a real appreciation for the ugliness of treatment consequences such as relationship challenges, sterility, impotence, bladder and bowel control. Nevertheless on a broad scale, Photosensitive has demonstrated a unique way of using the visual arts to create a new understanding of managing the personal relationship with cancer.

Photo Credit: Aaron Whitfield

Dan Hennessey puts it succinctly, “I was asked by a lady viewing the exhibit in Halifax if this was a Memorial Exhibit for Prostate Cancer. I told her that this is not a memorial but an exhibit of hope, survival and awareness”.

TIEd Together makes an important contribution to normalizing the relationship between those with cancer, their inner circle relationships, and the world outside. These photos make you see these men for who they are – not that they have cancer.

Photo Credit: Giordano Ciampini

The exhibition is in the magnificent Galleria at Brookfield Place, Toronto until January 21st and then continues across the country. The entire collection can be seen on the Photosensitive website.

Dan Hennessey and Zal Press