October 16, 2012
(USA TODAY) -- Bob Carey is not afraid to bare his emotions. Or anything else.
Carey appears in a pink tutu -- and only a pink tutu -- in a new book of photographs, Ballerina, created to support his wife, Linda, who has advanced breast cancer.
Each of the 61 photographs in the self-published book was shot in a different location -- the Grand Canyon, a horse ranch, an Italian hill town. Each has one thing in common: the 51-year-old Carey -- 5-foot-10, weighing more than 200 pounds -- appearing as a solitary figure in a landscape, or alone in an anonymous crowd. In a short video posted on YouTube, viewers can watch Carey shooting his photos, jumping up and down for the camera. When he returns to the camera, viewers also can hear him huffing and puffing, audibly out of breath from his short dance.
"He's not afraid to put himself out there," says Linda Lancaster-Carey, 51, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2003 and learned it had spread to her liver in 2006. "It's his own body, with all its imperfections."
The Careys say laughter has always been at the heart of their relationship. Linda brought the first few photos to chemotherapy, where she shared them with other cancer patients. "It made them happy," Carey says. "At that point, I decided that I was going to try to get this book published."
Carey isn't the first person to try to publicly empathize with a loved one going through cancer. The 2003 film Calendar Girls, starring Helen Mirren, was based on the true story of a British women's club who posed in the buff -- although artfully hidden behind tea sets, big hats and floral arrangements -- to raise money for cancer, after the husband of one of the women died from lymphoma.
Carey says photography allowed him to focus on something other than his own fear, he says. Carey, a commercial photographer, shot many of the photos while traveling for work, which often forced him to be away from his wife and their home in New Jersey, when she was going through treatment. "In the beginning, I was really angry," says Carey, who lost his mother to breast cancer and his father to lung cancer. "I would take these images as self-therapy. It takes me on these little adventures where I'm not thinking about anything else."
Lancaster-Carey says she sees beyond the humor in the photos, perhaps because she knows the pain the couple has endured. "There is a lot of fun in there," she says, "but when I look at them, I also see isolation." Carey agrees. "Some of these photos aren't that funny," he says. "They are melancholy and lonely. Even in Times Square, people aren't paying attention to me."
Carey says he didn't choose the color pink because of its symbolism for breast cancer awareness. Carey's step-mother sewed the ballet skirt for him years earlier, for a comical, pro-bono publicity campaign for an Arizona ballet company. The couple say they plan to use proceeds from the book for the non-profit they created, the Carey Foundation, which will work with established cancer charities to help women with daily needs not covered by insurance, such as transportation, child care and meals.
The couple say they're a bit overwhelmed by the reaction. Carey's video has been viewed more than 38,000 times on YouTube. Bloomingdale's has agreed to sell the book, out Sept. 15th. On Sunday, the couple will organize a brief "tutu walk" in Hoboken, encouraging people to don either tutus or T-shirts. While some people assume that her husband must be a saint, Lancaster-Carey says neither of them are perfect.
"This project has made him into a hero, and I understand that," Lancaster-Carey says. "But he had his own emotions to deal with, and I had mine. We're just human." The project "probably helped him stay sane."
Carey says he never intended to simply play the clown. The photos "are about transforming into somebody I'm not. It's about being vulnerable," he says. Yet he stresses that his wife is the brave one: "She's always in a risky position."
While Carey's approach is unusual, journalist Marc Silver, author of the book Breast Cancer Husband, says most viewers will be attracted to the comedy in Carey's photos, not the sadness. "It seems a little disingenuous to say he didn't go for pink because of its breast cancer connection, and also to say that a photo of a burly guy in a tutu in Times Square is about being vulnerable," Silver says. "It's a funny concept and he should own it, instead of aiming for pathos."
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