In this week’s edition of Lovesourced, we speak to US-based photographer Robert Houser about his project Facing Chemo; a series of portraits that explore the emotions present in people as they undergo chemotherapy.
Firstly, can you tell us about your background as an image maker / photographer?
I discovered an interest in photography during my final year at Brown University. While I was busy focusing on majors in science and comparative literature, I opted to take photography classes at RISD. It was then that I determined that photography was something I not only held a great talent for, but it was something I was passionate about.
Who are your photography heroes and how would you describe your own style?
I don’t have any photography ‘heroes’ per se, but I would likely describe my style as one that centers on portraiture, encompassing a wide range of abilities from corporate and annual report photography to lifestyle, editorial and recently, advertising. I specialise in ambient lighting, and I work hard to connect with my subjects.
What was the motivation behind ‘Facing Chemo,’ and what has inspired you most about it?
The motivation for Facing Chemo came after photographing a woman for a corporate client. She mentioned to me that she would be losing her hair soon as a result of chemo treatment and I offered to photograph her when she lost her hair, if she wanted, for her own documentation of the journey she would take. It wasn’t until she went through chemo for the second time that she contacted me to take him me on his offer. The experience was unlike any other I’d had shooting portraits for over 20 years. To be able to capture the raw emotions and exposed nature of someone without hair, made vulnerable by this cancer treatment, was incredible, and in turn I saw how uplifting the experience and the gift of these photos was for my subject. I decided that I wanted to photograph more people, and thus, Facing Chemo took off.
Pick your three favourite photos from the collection and explain why you chose them?
This is the image that started it all. It’s an award-winning image that has been the signature photo for the project.
I love this image as I think it captures her true personality. I love the color of her skin and the way her arms wrap in front of her torso, as well as her demure yet confident expression.
I love this because her face draws you in – she is right there, emotions fully exposed – and her green eyes and freckles are so beautiful.
What is it about portrait photography that made you choose it as the sole-style for this project?
I specialize in portraiture, it was a natural fit and one of the foundations for the project from the start.
What equipment do you use?
Canon 5D Mark III; all of the lighting is ambient, sometimes reflective, but always natural.
What has been the most inspiring / emotional encounter you’ve had during the project?
There have been so many inspirational stories that people have shared. Some people going through cancer for the 2nd, 3rd and even 4th time. One of the most inspirational was a woman who was originally diagnosed with colon cancer. She went through treatment and thought she had beaten the disease only to find years later that the cancer had metastasised to her lungs. Unable to fully remove the cancer, she is being treated with chemotherapy as if it were a chronic disease. She will spend the rest of her time on earth truly ‘facing chemo’. The most striking component to this story is that although she knows her time is limited, she has chosen to spend that time giving herself to others. She administers to the sick, consels other cancer patients, and provides support to others who may not be as strong as she is. She believes that she’s still here for a reason, that God has given her a mission, a purpose, and she has embraced that. Truly inspirational.
What has been the most surprising lesson you have learnt?
That people undergoing chemotherapy who lose their hair, are often more effected by the loss of their hair, which for many is their ‘identity’, than the cancer diagnosis itself. That the exposure to the world as a cancer patient, signified by the loss of hair, is complicated, emotional and more definitive than if they were to have cancer and not experience chemotherapy and it’s effects.
What is the next step for ‘Facing Chemo’?
The project continues to take an organic path. We have requests from people who have finished chemo and their hair is growing back, but they want to have their scars photographed. At the moment, we are focused on getting the show up and moving around the country – thus the importance of our kickstarter campaign that ends this Saturday! If we’re able to get that out there, to inspire others, then who knows where it could go from there. I am open to the possibilities.
Support the Facing Chemo Campaign
You can find out more about Robert Houser at his website
If you, or someone you know, is interested in participating in Facing Chemo, please contact the studio: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To pledge your own support for Robert’s project, visit his Kickstarter page: