Making prostate cancer visible through portraits

Specifically male cancers – prostate and testicular – are still subject to the same kind of taboo that until recently hid the extent, and the human cost, of breast and cervical cancers in women. Most men shy away from discussion of illness and death, let alone incontinence and sexual dysfunction. But their silence reinforces the taboo.

Having lost a close friend to the disease more than 10 years ago, I jumped at the opportunity to shoot a series of portraits of men with advanced prostate cancer for an awareness-raising campaign. (The campaign is being mounted by the pharmaceutical company Astellas but has no direct commercial objective.) The idea is to show that, far from being passive victims of a shameful condition, cancer sufferers can be proud, passionate and fully engaged in life.

I’ve already completed three of a planned 12 shoots – two in England and one in France. All three guys were fantastic: open, generous and actively committed to the cause of bringing prostate cancer into the open. More shoots are planned in Italy, Germany, Spain and Belgium.

The aim is to capture one portrait in each session, together with one full-body shot of the subject with a person or an object, or in a place or engaged in an activity, that means a lot to him. My client is going to create a travelling exhibition which will be presented for the first time in November of this year, in Brussels.