For the past 3 years, the vast majority of words spilled into this space have been about my daughter, my family, and myself. But today am focusing on the work of another photographer whose work is something I admire and was not able to do when I was in a somewhat similar circumstance. I’m sure many of you have seen this because it has been floating around for a while, but I wanted to stop and take a look at it from the perspective of both a photographer and as a person who spent a lot of time watching things I could not control in regards to my brother’s leukemia. Before I was a photographer, I was a sister and this is that story. My brother and I are very close despite the fact that we are nearly 5 years apart. Half of that is because he is mature for his age, the other half is the fact that I am immature for mine. When he was 7 and I was on the brink of 12, he was diagnosed with leukemia for the first time and nearly everything in our lives changed. Everything except for Spencer. Physically, yes, he changed. The affects of chemotherapy, radiation, exhaustion and disillusionment are heavily taxing on the human form. As a person he remained sweet, sensitive, and gracious. Our new normal was anything but normal and most people did not stick around to get used to our new routine, but the ones that did are the ones that counted. Those connections are ones that time and space cannot sever. His battle was long and spanned over half of his life at the time until finally in 2008 he received bone marrow from across the Atlantic Ocean.
The story portrayed in these pictures is not Spencer’s story but a story of another family in another state grappling with the task of taking each day one at a time. This is a story about a man who loved his wife indefinitely and needed to record both their new normal in its endless and painful monotony and the glimmers of happiness that spread soft and warm over everything like light in the golden hour. To see all the pictures in this series please check out Angelo’s website, a beautiful and haunting portrayal of one woman’s battle with breast cancer.
A letter to the photographer, Angelo Merendino :
As fellow photographer and someone who watched my little brother, Spencer, battle cancer for 10 years before he finally received a life saving bone marrow transplant, these pictures meant so much to me. I made the switch from film to digital in 2008 when my brother relapsed for the second time with the knowledge that time is fleeting. Cliches are cliches for a reason and that reason is that they are true. When it came down to it, I couldn’t make myself take them. I took my camera with me everywhere and I would occasionally snap a few photos but those photographs or the lack there of, tell only one story. That story is this: I was afraid to share these moments with other people because I was scared if my brother did not survive that was how he would be remembered. Spencer survived and lives on as a fedora-wearing, girly-beer drinking, niece-loving, God-fearing, funny as hell twenty-one year old fine art student and I’m lucky enough to share a wall with him. But, seeing these pictures made me realize that I was wrong. The only shame that comes with cancer, is the shame that we don’t yet have a cure for it. So often people will look at a person with cancer, as the cancer itself but cancer does not define someone, it is but a part of the complexity that is the individual. Jennifer is beautiful from the beginning to the end and the honesty she allowed you to share with us in an insurmountable gift. The legacy you have created and she has left is not a white surrender flag but a proclamation to actualize the human experience. It teaches us to embrace love, tell our stories, make connections, and live openly. It also shows us the power of a motivated person with a camera and a story to tell. There isn’t photographer out there that would look at these pictures and not say “This is why we take pictures”. Mr. Merendino, you did more than take pictures of your wife’s struggle with cancer. You gave her an opportunity to share her legacy. The legacy which you and your families and friends were aware of, but the rest of us were not. So even though I never met her and may never meet you, I love you both. For being brave and vulnerable and honest when it may have been easier not to . For being an example of love, affection, and authenticity in a world that often needs a reminder of this kind of beauty.
All my very best,