Photographing my cancer helped me to heal


Tracey Derrick got her diagnosis in 2008. Breast cancer. The disease ruptured her life and transformed her body. A mastectomy left her without her right breast. As a photographer who had spent her career photographing marginalised communities, she found herself part of one. So she turned the camera on herself. The resultant picture chronicle reveals openness, beauty and courage, most boldly captured in photographs of the tattoo that swims over the memory of her breast. On the unfamiliar side of her lens, Derrick accessed a newfound strength and self-love.

She explored photography as an escape after she graduated from university. While she travelled abroad, the hobby became an obsession. Derrick snuck into the Parsons School of Photography in New York to develop her first black and white photograph. The experience inspired her to hone her skill through further study in the city. It was during this time that she decided to focus her work on social community issues. She began to use her personal escape as a tool to free others from silence. The next 25 years would see Derrick document the lives of sex workers, sangomas, farm labourers and women prisoners, among other marginalised groups. Her goal has always been to effect real change by shedding light on overlooked issues.

Cancer gave Derrick the chance to do this in a different way, from the perspective of one of the overlooked. She called this introspective project One in nine, in reference to the quotient of women in South Africa who battle breast cancer during their lives. To herself she has proven that no statistic can erase her individuality and that her body is strong. To others she hopes to prove that there is no set image of women and that we shouldn’t hide our demons.