Photographer Isis Charise began The Grace Project as a way to celebrate breast cancer survivors who’d undergone mastectomies.
This is The Three Graces — created by three sisters who’ve all survived breast cancer.
Charise began the project after meeting a woman who was a 12-year breast cancer survivor.
“I worked as a boudoir photographer for many years,” Charise told BuzzFeed. One day, a man called to book a shoot for his wife. “The day of the shoot, a beautiful and vivacious 62-year-old woman showed up to my studio determined to be covered up throughout her shoot,” she recalled.
Halfway through the session, the woman revealed that she was a 12-year survivor of breast cancer. “She was embarrassed about her breast, which she felt was mutilated,” said Charise. “After her confession, she started exposing her ‘good’ breast to the camera while leaving the other one covered. She was feeling sensual and beautiful when suddenly she threw her clothes of and exclaimed ‘fuck it! I’m doing this for myself!!’”
The transformation was “astounding” to witness, said Charise. “It was far too cathartic and powerful and experience to ignore. I knew in my heart that I had to explore this further.”
Each photograph re-imagines a breast cancer survivor as a mythological figure or classic motif.
This is The Empress. The Empress is a powerful tarot figure. She represents creative femininity and rebirth.
Pallas Athene is goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration and civilization. She represents law and justice, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill.
For the women who participate, the project can be a critical part of healing.
“Most of the shoots are very emotional and profound,” Charise told BuzzFeed. In a letter Charise shared with us, a woman named Terri explained that prior to getting photographed she felt ashamed of her body. But after the shoot, she wrote, “I am who I am, not because of my physical body, but because of what’s inside….and no amount of surgery, cosmetic or otherwise will ever change that! I am a woman irregardless of what body parts must be sacrificed for the good of my health.”
Mater Et Filia
Mater et Filia explores the classic connection between mother and daughter and features a real-life set of mother-daughter breast cancer survivors.
Odonata is actually the order of the dragonfly, and symbolizes maturity and depth, power and poise.
Eponina is the story of a Roman woman who faithfully supported her rebel husband while they spent ten years living in hiding in a cave.
Charise hopes that by creating these pictures, she’s helping to start a dialogue about what breast cancer survivors’ bodies really look like.
“I believe this is important for women who live with the challenge of breast cancer and also for their partners, families and caregivers,” she told BuzzFeed. “I hope that these images create a doorway that leads to further acceptance of the post-mastectomy body.”
And ultimately, she says, “I hope that these images help to shift the narrow perception of beauty that exists within our culture.”