Before and After (Laura Stevens, 2011)

from the original ‘Breastless’ pamphlet              

When I met Clare and we began working together on the first set of portraits in 2006, I was in the middle of my two year Photography Masters degree at the University of Brighton.

Clare had asked me to photograph her, as a way of remembering her body and to creatively aid her transformation through double mastectomy. We did the shoot a few weeks before Clare’s operation, in my attic studio in Brighton. Clare brought a few props with her, to give us ideas. Nothing was planned or structured. We simply tried things out. I think all the experimentation helped Clare relax, and she ended up laughing quite a lot.

I think it was my idea to do a second shoot. I suggested it to Clare a few months after the surgery. In the end I photographed her on her birthday, at her house, about eighteen months after the first session. The second shoot was as experimental as the first. Working with the plaster casts was wonderful, and I am particularly pleased with some of these shots. Clare also wanted to have some shots that were more abstract, more about the landscape of her body in its new form. And we worked some shots with a mirror, to approach the sense of Clare looking at herself – the self-portrait.

I have always been interested in notions of idealism and beauty in the female. Making the photographs of Clare brought a new perspective to my work. For these sessions, my photographer’s eye and my feelings as a woman had to be equally engaged. Clare’s bravery, her determination to accept and love her body through drastic change, have been an inspiration to me. Her clear, powerful voice speaks across the prejudices of our image-obsessed society.

I wanted to capture the beauty, courage, loss and hope I saw in Clare, both before and after her operation.