‘Here I AM’ is the ground-breaking new photographic exhibition highlighting the beauty of the human form following a cancer diagnosis.

It aims to dramatically improve both awareness and treatment of people with cancer.

Inspirational cancer survivor Nina Cristinacce was one of the women behind the project, which features 50 brave volunteers from all over Northern Ireland.

Joan explained: “Just one black and white image can be so striking that it stands alone”

Joan explained: “Just one black and white image can be so striking that it stands alone”

The series of images documents each individual’s cancer journey through the medium of bold images alongside inspirational messages from each of the brave models involved.

Nina spoke with us back in March before the exhibition took place: “It has been a hugely humbling experience to date, having met so many courageous people who exude positivity in the face of adversity. I have not heard as much laughter as I did during the photo shoots!

“These people have had surgery. The original idea was to focus on the scars of people – and explore how much their bodies had changed. The idea has evolved from there. Because not all cancers have scars. The likes of Leukaemia do not have scars. A lot of scars you can’t see – like Cervical Cancer. So it really became more about the person behind the cancer.”

“Once we started getting some of the images from photo-shoots back, we started noticing that you can see a lot in a person’s face. You can see a lot in their eyes.

“A lot of scars you can’t see – this project is about the person behind the cancer"

“A lot of scars you can’t see – this project is about the person behind the cancer”

“The original thought was that we would get around 20 volunteers. We thought that would give us a wide variety of people; ages; male; female; possibly children – we didn’t know. But we’ve actually ended up with just over 50 models.

“The youngest model is just seven. We also had a 14-year-old-girl. And they go right up to the mid 80’s. Male and female.

“We photographed very different types of cancer; some with extremely rare forms. Then they write a little bit about what they’ve been through and we asked everyone to pinpoint one thing, one message they’d like to get across.

“We photographed very different types of cancer; some with extremely rare forms”

“We photographed very different types of cancer; some with extremely rare forms”

“Because there’s so many different forms of cancer that maybe some people don’t know what to look out for. Or even how to deal with something.”

“It’s about the whole story. It’s basically the truth about cancer.”

Now – for the very first time since the initial launch at the Rockabilly Mayhem Ball, the photographs will be available to be viewed by the public in a general exhibition.

But after having raised a staggering £12,000 for six local cancer charities with their event, the Rockabilly Mayhem Ball, Nina was left feeling despondent after they struggled to find a venue willing to display the images. Nina said:

“The Rockabilly Mayhem Ball was attended by over 500 people, many of whom got into the spirit of Rockabilly and dressed in the style which was a fabulous riot of colour and swing dresses!

“The evening commenced with a drinks reception in the atrium of the Titanic Buildings where the photographic exhibition was on display and representatives from our chosen six local cancer charities were on hand supporting guests with information.

Perhaps one of the highlights of the whole evening was the fashion show organised by Joan McCartney with the expert assistance of Marieanne from Daisy Mae Boutique, Coleraine and Gillian from Excel Clothing, Newtownards and Bangor. The fashion show featured almost all of the photographic models, all looking fantastic as they danced down the grand staircase of the Titanic Suite.

“This was closely followed by the very brave Colin McLean unveiling his new sleek look having spent a month on a body sculpt programme culminating in a full body wax and fundraising for the whole time.

Here I AM

“Their story does need to be told. It needs to be out there. We all do need to take strength from that”

“The final total raised was £12,000 which was divided equally between the 6 nominated charities, Cancer Focus NI, Macmillan NI, NI Cancer Fund for Children, Pretty ‘n’ Pink Breast Cancer Charity, Leukemia and Lymphoma NI and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.”

“Having spent several weeks sending out emails to venues asking if they would be interested in hosting the photographic exhibition ,we were becoming despondent as we were met with a negative response. The primary issue was the explicit nature of some of the images…

“Images which show the scars from cancer, colostomy bags, ileostomy bags – the reality of cancer. We can empathise that some images may not be suitable for young audiences but we were not willing to dilute the content of the exhibition.”

Nina also took part in the exhibition

Nina: “For me, there was simply no question that I wasn’t getting through it. My children were very young at that time. So laughter was a big thing for me”

But thankfully, the Here I AM team eventually made a breakthrough, and now the breath-taking exhibition is opening in just a number of weeks!

“We met Olivier Martin from ArtCetera Studio at the end of May following a positive response to our initial enquiry email and he had no hesitation in hosting the exhibition.

“His enthusiasm was infectious and we are currently framing and reprinting images ready for the exhibition which is set to run from October 1 until October 23, with a launch party being held on Thursday October, 6.

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“The aim of the exhibition is to show the truth about cancer – the reality of what it does to the human form, the fear, the anxiety, the anger, the scars but conversely the beauty of each individual in spite of the trauma they have endured, their courage and their strength.

“The images will be accompanied with each person’s story – which will include, diagnosis, treatment, their inspirations and their support. The aim of this information is to inspire others who have been recently diagnosed, raise awareness of different types of cancer and also the support which is available from local cancer charities.

“The exhibition is free to visit as is the launch night, October but we are suggesting that people could make a donation which will go to Here I AM.

“The launch party will be from 7pm until late and will be attended by some of the models involved in the photo shoots along with some of the photographers, hair stylists and make up artists.

“There will be drinks and food and live music…so it should be a lively social evening and also quite emotional for some of those involved in the project.

“During this exhibition there will be a workshop presented by Michael Barbour talking about photographing the models for the exhibition which should appeal to any budding photographers!

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“We will also be running an event in conjunction with breast cancer awareness month involving a couple of local charities talking about the services they provide and how they can help anyone diagnosed with breast cancer, along with breast cancer survivors talking openly about their experiences. There will be a pink champagne/pink lemonade reception with light refreshments afterwards for anyone who would like further advice or just to enjoy the company of others in a similar position.”

Nina also hopes the exhibition will be able to move to other venues in future throughout Northern Ireland as well

“We have a couple of places who have expressed interest and would be delighted to hear from anyone who would like to host the exhibition.

“We are hoping to attract anyone who has been touched by cancer, whether directly or indirectly and also medical professionals. We personally feel that each person who took part in this project had their own personal reason for doing so, each person has shown immense courage and we hope to convey this positivity to others.”

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Meanwhile, Nina and her team have big plans for the future of Here I AM:

“We have applied to charities commission for charity status for Here I AM as we intend to offer support for those going through treatment and those who have had a cancer diagnosis at any time in their life (for some people the fear of recurrence is ongoing and can often lead to anxiety and depression) and a signposting service to all the charities in Northern Ireland who may be able to offer practical and emotional support.

“We are currently developing a series of workshops called ‘Thrive’ with the aim of getting people out and about to try new things which may help conquer feelings of anxiety and boost confidence. The first of these is a yoga workshop which takes place on Sunday September 25 at Live, Love Yoga in Bangor from 3pm until 5pm.

“We are also organising a fundraising event running in November at Newtownards rugby club, in aid of Leukemia and Lymphoma NI and Here I AM – a Spanish Tapas evening with wine, beer and cider tasting. (Date to be confirmed)

“A second series of photo shoots will run next year – many of the models initially find it daunting but come away feeling so positive and empowered, this is what we are aiming for!”

Check out our gallery of the Rockabilly Ball below!

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