Photographer Robert Houser's revealing, honest photo series works to capture cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy in a way that shows they are so much more than their disease.
Houser tells A Plus in an email that the project began years ago when he was photographing a woman for a magazine story:
"Halfway through the shoot, she told me that she was about to lose her hair from chemotherapy. At the time, I immediately wanted to find something that I could give to her during her experience with chemo," Houser explains.
"I offered to photograph her, but I could tell she wanted to get through chemo and try to put it behind her. Four years later, out of the blue, she called me back and asked me if my offer still stood."
Houser then went on to photograph what he says were some of the most "moving portraits" he's ever shot.
In the introduction to the "Facing Chemo" book, the first woman Houser photographed explains that she had often been "looked at, photographed, studied and examined, and as a result had reached a point where she didn't want to see her own reflection, even in a car window," Houser tells A Plus.
"She said the photographs we did together were the first images that showed her and not her disease."
Moreover, the woman writes that "she had a new found feelings of self, a realization that she was still there," Houser explains.
Since starting the project, Houser says he has learned that everyone faces chemotherapy and their disease in different ways. Women share their personal stories with him — from their experiences with hair loss to attending special occasions to their relationships with their families.
Houser says that one woman told him a story about taking her son to visit colleges:
"She didn't want his interview to be about her, so she bought a wig for the trip. Earlier she had told me that when it came time to cut off what was left of her hair, her son wouldn't even come in the room. And now, here she was at his college interview. They had taken a tour around the campus in the hot sun and she was getting uncomfortable in the wig. As sweat was coming down around her face, he turned to her as they were nearing the interview and said, "It's OK, you can take it off, it's OK." We were both in tears," Houser tells A Plus.
When asked what these images reveal, Houser says that the portraits show "a certain honesty about the individuals."
"The drugs themselves play a huge [role] in how these individuals photograph. People undergoing chemotherapy appear to be living at the edge of their emotions at all times, they cannot hide fear, or pretend to be feeling something different," he explains.
So he hopes that upon seeing these images, particularly within an exhibit, people will feel empathetic towards those in the portraits, gaining "a better understanding of what people around them are going through."
Houser graduated from Brown University with a double concentration in Psychology and Comparative Literature, combining his passions for both art and science.
The cross between art and science has inspired him in his career. "I have come to realize that what I do is tell stories about people. I find and learn their story and present it using art. It all seems to make sense," he explains.
Now, Houser hopes to use his background and passions for a new project for the Facing Light Foundation that will study someone with schizophrenia over a long period of time.