“Blood Lines”: An Exhibit by Elizabeth M. Claffey

In October 2009 Suzan was diagnosed with stage 3B inflammatory breast cancer. Her doctors told her that the tumor that engorged her left breast and caused her nipple to invert was growing at a fast rate. Instead of the usual 5 percent growth rate in cancer cells, Suzan’s cells were growing at a rate of 40 percent.

About a week after her diagnosis Suzan met Elizabeth, a student at Texas Woman’s University who was pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree and a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies. Elizabeth’s mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2008, and Elizabeth developed a sensitivity to the emotional and physical transitions that were part of her mother’s post-treatment life. She witnessed the “new shape of her [mother’s] body and its missing pieces” in the context of a society that is overly focused on physical perfection. Elizabeth saw how this social pressure exacerbated the feelings of isolation and guilt that accompanied her mother’s illness.

Suzan and Elizabeth quickly learned that they shared a common interest. Suzan was about to experience the impact of medical interventions on her body and sense of herself. She was on the verge of beginning her journey through diagnosis, chemotherapy, bilateral mastectomy, hysterectomy, and radiation, and she wanted to document it. Building from her mother’s experience, Elizabeth was interested in learning more about balancing treatment with everyday responsibilities, the varying support systems available for the diagnosed at home and within medical facilities, the effects of a “sterile environment” on a person’s perceptions of her body, and the sense of isolation people may experience. What transpired was a two-year photo-journey of Suzan’s experiences, in which Elizabeth recorded and explored the relationship between medical science and everyday life.

Elizabeth Claffey’s “Blood Work” is on exhibit from May 9 thru May 14 at Texas Woman’s University in the West Gallery of the Fine Arts Building. She shares some of her images here.

Elizabeth M. Claffey is a photographer and book artist currently pursing an MFA in Photography and a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies at Texas Woman’s University. After graduating from Earlham College in 2003, with honors for her photographic thesis on women’s body image issues and eating disorders, Elizabeth attended the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, where she further explored visual storytelling. Her work has been recognized by Yankee Publishing, PDN Magazine, Project Basho Gallery, Abecedarian Gallery, The Eddie Adams Workshop, and various other galleries and publications including The Chronicle of Higher EducationUSA TodayThe Dallas Morning News, and The Kinsey Institute.


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5 comments to “Blood Lines”: An Exhibit by Elizabeth M. Claffey

  • I find that image ‘behind the curtain’ very moving. It’s incredibly evocative of being in hospital and conveys a real sense of both the unknown and the waiting that happens to patients. The finger monitor is also very redolent of being a patient. I think patients are more affected by the ‘sterile environment’ than medical staff realise. It’s very alienating and isolating and I think these photos capture that very well. Sigh.

  • Gayle,

    This exhibit looks wonderful, honest, and authentic.

  • Love it. As you well know, I love using images to get messages across. Rock on, Elizabeth!

  • Sometimes pictures do say more than words don’t they? Very powerful images. Thank you for sharing them here.

  • Thanks all. Pictures really are worth a thousand words sometimes. I’ll be sure to share your comments with Elizabeth.

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