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Sarah J Dow ARPS

Print Submission

Statement of Intent

THE SHE INSIDE: Portraits of My Self

Survivors – of disease, war, abuse, loss - are often portrayed as proud scarred warriors. And we are, but this is not the everyday reality of our lives, nor does it reflect the emotional traumas we confront long after our bodies have healed.

As a survivor of four cancers I am no stranger to corporeal destruction, so my decision to reject reconstruction and stay flat after my bilateral mastectomy was, perhaps, natural.

It was other life-changing, parallel events, including the breakdown of my marriage and the death of my parents, that did more visceral damage and, as I recovered, I questioned what it means to survive when everything you once were has gone.

Survival is not something you ‘get through’, it is simply what you are until you are not. I am changed, and must come to terms with what’s left - even if I sometimes feel like a living ghost, and wonder that others can see me at all.

As a portrait photographer, I wanted to challenge how I see myself in contrast to how others perceive me, or the self I present to them; to explore identity and change, and to consider why I can make an image of myself that I recognise, yet others cannot.

Using self-portraiture was hugely challenging but it was the only truly authentic way to do this.

So here is a visual story of a She that is mine. I know intimately both her sadness and her resilience. Perhaps the true self is a fleeting ephemeral thing: perhaps there is no single self, only moments of now when we are the sum of the moments that went before.

All photographs are taken by me, alone.

In 2011 everything broke: marriage, job, health. My parent’s died. As time went on, I discovered people didn’t see me the way I felt, and, based on a poem I wrote, I started trying to tell the story of the me I knew.

When I realised I had the makings of a panel, it forced me to think deeply about the truth I wanted the viewer to feel through the images.

Advisory Day feedback was invaluable, but on Assessment Day the panel spotted a print error I’d missed, which meant a painful wait for Referral and a valuable lesson learned!


[Footnote: This is the poem that became the foundation for the project]


The I I see, the you that’s me
The we we are, the ones we’ll be
The she inside, the shadow deep
Where truth resides, and dare not speak
Who is the we, that be on show
The I you see, you think you know?
And of the lost, the ghosts of we
Who counts the ‘I’s, that’s really me?