A pink tutu may not seem like a fitting costume for a male superhero, but it’s what Bob Carey wears. And “hero” is how some might think of this man on a mission with his wife, Linda, to take good care of breast cancer patients.
A New York photographer originally from the Valley, Carey is raising money for people undergoing cancer treatment via The Tutu Project, a series of arresting self-portraits in which he wears a gauzy skirt and not much else. The project has garnered national attention on The Today Show and The Huffington Post.
Some of Carey’s images are on display at Mesa Contemporary Arts in Mesa, and Carey will photograph Tutu Tuesday, an Oct. 2 gathering of Valley residents wearing tutus in a show of support for breast cancer patients.
He’ll also shoot new images at an Oct. 14 Arizona Cardinals game, thanks to a partnership announced Sept. 20 with the NFL.
Carey, who has just published “Ballerina,” a hardcover compilation of his photos, tells more about his and Linda’s efforts to comfort cancer patients.
Q: When you first started doing tutu photos nine years ago, you could have chosen anything in the world to wear. How did you settle on a pink tutu?
A: It was a coincidence, actually. We lived in Phoenix, and I was a commercial photographer doing a kind of pro-bono project for Ballet Arizona. They asked all the photographers who were involved to make an image of what we thought of ballet. I’ve been photographing myself for 20 years now, doing self-portraits, so mine was, naturally, ‘I’m going to get a tutu on and photograph myself.’ My stepmother made a tutu, I did the image, and Ballet Arizona ended up using it. I moved to New York eight months later, and the tutu was in the car. I ended up photographing myself on the trip, and when we got to New York, I did several more.
Q: And then your wife, Linda, got her diagnosis. How did the images morph into a response to her illness?
A: Linda was diagnosed with cancer, and the world turned upside down. I used the tutu to transform myself. That’s what it was about for me: transformation. I started doing it kind of like self-therapy, just to help myself cope with the environment and seeing Linda going through her treatments. Three years later, she was rediagnosed and started her treatments all over again. She started taking my images to the cancer center, and when the women there were having their treatments, they were looking at my pictures. Linda would come home and tell me their reactions. I think the big breakthrough was when I saw how happy it made these women, when they were getting pumped full of this poison, to look at the pictures. I decided, ‘I’m going to publish them and make books and distribute them throughout the country and try to help.’ That’s what we’re working on now.
Q: Proceeds from that new book will go directly to Cancer Care and yours and Linda’s new nonprofit, The Carey Foundation. What does The Carey Foundation do?
A: The Carey Foundation is to provide women with what they need that they can’t get with their own insurance companies. Some women — especially here in the city — don’t have something as basic as rides; they don’t have transportation. Or they can’t get the proper bandages and have to use substandard ones. We want to help women through this time that’s so rough. There are a lot of organizations out there that are about research and cures, and that’s very necessary, but there aren’t a lot that help make women comfortable. It’s all about caring for the cancer patient when they need it the most.
Q: What do you think it is about your photos that people respond to?
A: I think some of (the images) look lonely. They look isolated. People, at the time (they’re going through cancer diagnosis and treatment), can relate to this. I’ve had people tell me they feel this way, and they wish they could express this; I’m doing it for them. I think people also think some of them are funny. Not all of them, but people like the lightheartedness — that even in isolation they can still celebrate somehow.
Q: How are you and Linda doing now?
A: She’s doing great. She’s on chemo one week on and one week off. She goes in for her treatments every three weeks. Her doctors think she’s a miracle.
We’re just overwhelmed in a great way by how this project is happening and all the support we’re getting for it, especially in Arizona. It’s important that, during the process of people’s illnesses — during their treatments, which is the worst part, I think — they’re taken care of. It’s such a painful thing to go through. A cure is very important, but it’s important to take care of our loved ones.
If you go
What: “Ballerina,” an exhibition of photography by Bob Carey
When: On display noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Dec. 2
Where: Mesa Contemporary Arts at Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St.
Cost: Free admission
Information: (480) 644-6560 or MesaArtsCenter.com
Show your support at Tutu Tuesday
Bob Carey isn’t the only one who looks good in a tutu. You’re invited to wear one of the frilly skirts for Tutu Tuesday, happening Oct. 2 at Mesa Arts Center. Inspired by Carey’s “Ballerina” photos, the event is an attempt to convene the largest gathering ever of people in tutus. It also kicks off Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Festivities begin at 11 a.m. A group photo will be taken — by Carey himself — at 12:30 p.m. Individual photos will be taken by pro photographers for a $10 donation to the American Cancer Society and Cancer Care. Carey’s exhibit will be open for viewing inside Mesa Contemporary Arts, and Carey will have copies of his book, “Ballerina,” on hand for purchase. Tutus are available on order from MAC through Monday, Sept. 24, or you can access tutorials on how to make your own tutu via MesaArtsCenter.com. The free event is open to people of all ages. For information, call (480) 644-6500.
Contact writer: (480) 898-6818 or firstname.lastname@example.org