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Facing Chemo: A Moving Portrait Project of Those Battling Cancer

By Hanssie on August 19th 2015

Bay Area photographer Robert Houser began the Facing Chemo project four years ago with a woman on her second round of chemotherapy. Years prior, Houser photographed the same woman for a corporate client. The woman had mentioned then that she was about to begin chemotherapy and would lose her hair soon. Moved by this woman’s plight, Houser offered her a photo session to document her journey, of which she declined. But this time around, about to face a bone marrow transplant, she contacted him. They spent an afternoon taking photos and talking about her experiences. Recent pictures of her had been solely focused on her disease – X-rays, MRIs, medical related images; but Houser’s images of her were “the first time in years someone saw her…the woman inside.”



Houser was so moved by this experience, he began making more portraits of people undergoing chemotherapy, and thus, the Facing Chemo project began. Exploring the emotions that people undergoing chemotherapy experience, the series takes a raw and emotional look at the individuals in a simple setting, allowing their strength and beauty to shine through.

Bob’s images of me forced me to look at myself honestly, and to see that I was still beautiful on the outside. The experience gave me back some hard sought self-esteem. It might seem superficial to prioritize physical presentation when faced with life-or-death, but the truth is that I never transcended such things. I never stopped being human.
What I like most about the image with my hands clasping my face, are the tiny silhouettes of Bob’s reflection in the pupils of my eyes. My photography session with Bob was a rare moment, when someone was looking closely at me with interest, but seeing more than just my cancer. When I look at the images that Bob captured, I don’t see anything wrong with me. I see that I was perfectly cancerous—real, fragile, pained … and yet, still beautiful. —Christabel

facing-chemo-project-2 Since, the project has branched off under the umbrella of the Facing Light Foundation with the projects Facing Chemo, Facing Chemo Before and After, Facing Aging (which focuses on people over aged 90) and currently, Facing Mind (focusing on people struggling with mental disorders). The Facing Chemo series has also been displayed at two separate gallery exhibits and was part of a successfully funded Kickstarter Project a few years ago.

Houser’s aim with his project is to educate, inspire, share the stories of strength, and “put a face on the effects of chemo.” You can read more about the Facing Light Project on their website here, see more images on the 500px page and follow the Facing Light Foundation on Facebook. To see more of Robert Houser’s work in commercial photography, check out his website here.

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CREDITS: Photographs by Robert Houser are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  2. Chess Macal

    Great article! Photos, when done right, are a great way to humanize people. And those going through cancer are some of the people that need this the most.

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  3. Hagos Rush

    An absolutely heart warming post. I love it

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  4. Lester Terry

    This touches the heart. Good work

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  5. Dave Haynie

    Those are stricking.

    My wife went through two-and-a-half years of hell, dealing with breast cancer, 11 surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, etc. She didn’t want any photos of those days, and I respected her wishes, but this makes me think…

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    • Jay Protacio

      Towards the end my mom didn’t want any pictures, either. Sometimes I feel like that should have been one of the times I didn’t listen.

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    • Barry Cunningham

      Better to honor your subject’s wishes to show your love and respect towards them.
      You can capture the memories by being present in the moment, remembering, and sharing your memories in other ways.

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    • Graham Curran

      My wife had two bouts of radio and chemotherapy when she was battling multiple myeloma. The treatments can be very stressful and emotionally draining so this is only something that should be done with the full support of the patient. In my wife’s case even I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to take any photographs.

      Note that this was 12 years ago and she’s still going strong, albeit with a gammy arm.

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  6. Tom Blair

    Real life

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