In Professor Glenna Gordon’s International Photojournalism course, students learn to engage with the language of visuals and to think critically about photographs and representations. After looking at both traditional photojournalism methods and new forms of image making, students can choose to create a hands-on photo project in a diaspora community in New York or take on a personal project.

“Clean Shave” is a photo essay that tells the story of my cousin, Vanessa, 32, during treatment for stage four breast cancer. She was diagnosed the summer of 2018. The photos look at emotional, educational, and hopeful images of a disease that tends to hold hopelessness, pain and sadness. It seemed as if the quote “tragedy brings people closer together” was true. Friends and family came together in a way that I have never seen before. There were new group texts with daily prayers, Saturday movie nights, infusion center ‘turn ups’ and the sweet whispers of I love you, since her treatment started. Delving into this project filled me with fear. Fear of capturing something that felt ‘inappropriate’, capturing pain of someone who is always a bundle of happiness and brightness. Understanding expectations vs reality of what myself and my subject, felt and learned. What I thought would be the start to an incredibly sad story, turned out to be one of strength and inspiration. What came from the fear of the unknown was knowledge and hope for her future and the future of treatment and support for those living with cancer. Vanessa and I, collectively, worked on this photo essay together, with her guidance and her vulnerability she allowed me to build another relationship with her, and allowed herself to tell just a part of her story, in what she says “Doesn’t define her and would be a good way to express what is happening in a creative way”. Together we’ll continue this project and create photos that will hopefully help tell her story better and can be shared to help others alike, tell theirs.