SHE rose to fame as one the leading figures in the controversial Britart movement.
Her most famous images include a serene David Beckham sleeping and a collection of candid poses of some of Hollywood’s leading actors including Clint Eastwood and Sean Penn.
Now Sam Taylor-Wood (the name she works under; she is now Sam Taylor-Johnson having married Aaron Johnson this year), has created another set of poignant images – this time depicting cancer patients and their loved ones at a Scottish centre run by the charity Maggie’s. The artist spent a day at the centre in Fife taking photographs of people when they went for treatment and support.
The Portraits for Maggie’s collection will today go on display in a new cancer ward at Kirkcaldy’s Victoria Infirmary. The exhibition has previously been displayed inside 10 Downing Street – the only time a new art work not part of the official Downing Street collection has been shown in the Prime Minister’s residence.
Taylor-Wood – who also directed film Nowhere Boy based on the childhood experiences of John Lennon – said the project is designed to offer cancer patients hope.
It was a personal journey for Taylor-Wood, 45, who was made OBE last year for her services to the arts, and who has overcome cancer twice in her life, a battle which prompted her to become a patron for the Scottish-based charity.
She said: “Every person shown in the pictures has been affected by cancer, either living with the disease themselves or supporting a loved one through their own illness. I hope that the portraits have captured their strong and mildly heroic spirit.
“What struck me about the portraits is the sense of optimism in the faces of the subjects. I didn’t ask them to portray any particular emotion but this is the overwhelming sentiment that shines through. Maggie’s empowers on a daily basis and I’m delighted that the exhibition now has a more permanent home at the Victoria Hospital in Fife.”
The artist has loaned the images to the hospital where they will stay on display for at least a year, the charity says. The collection includes a picture of Dr Bob Grant who lost his right leg due to bone cancer with which he was diagnosed as a teenager.
He has raised thousands of pounds for the charity by completing a 100-mile hike along Fife’s Costal Path from Maggie’s Dundee to Maggie’s Edinburgh via Maggie’s Fife, which was designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid.
Another image shows brain tumour patient Edward Shamash with his wife and children who, as a family, raised more than £7,500 for the charity before the father-of-two passed away. Jim Brown, who cared for his wife, Marion, before she died, also appears in the collection, sitting alone in a chair outside the Fife centre.
Taylor-Wood shot to fame in the late 1980s as one of the Young British Artists – who also included Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin – who wanted to shock with their work. She was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of just 29 which she successfully battled. Four years later, in 2000, she discovered she had breast cancer, but again managed to overcome the disease.
The head of Maggie’s Fife, Elspeth Salter, said staff felt privileged that Taylor-Wood had become involved in the charity’s work. Salter, a clinical psychologist, says: “To have someone as high profile and talented as Sam Taylor-Johnson take an interest in the people of Maggie’s Fife and their individual journeys was a huge honour and a privilege, as it is now to have the portraits hanging in the hospital where people undergo treatment and staff work so very hard to give them the best care possible.
“It is interesting too that when meeting the visitors to the centre and taking their portraits Sam saw optimism in their eyes. So much of what we do at Maggie’s focuses on helping people remember how to live, laugh and have hope no matter what stage they are at on their cancer journey.”
Maggie’s Arts and Culture Co-ordinator Kathryn Lamont said patients and staff who were given a preview of the work, found the images poignant. She said: “The portraits are incredibly poignant, in part because each one tells a little of that person or persons own story and partly because Sam’s own experience of cancer, a fact which I believe helped her empathise and connect with the people featured in her portraits. They make quite an impact in the hospital and I believe they will make people stop, think and smile.”
Maggie’s offers free emotional, practical and social support to people with cancer and their families and friends. The charity’s centres are set up in the grounds of specialist cancer hospitals. Edinburgh was home to the first centre, which opened in 1996. Maggie’s now has 13 centres across the UK and two overseas, in Hong Kong and Barcelona. Last year more than 100,000 visits were made to the charity’s centres by people undergoing cancer treatment and their loved ones.
David Stewart, chairman of the Operational Division for NHS Fife said: “I am delighted with this kind donation of artwork from Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres. “The series of portraits by Sam Taylor-Johnson provide a unique and especially human feature for our patients, staff and visitors.”
‘I tried to get on with things and bury the fear the best I could but I was terrified…’
Mum-of-two Isla McCurrach is one of the patients included in the collection. She says she hopes the portraits give patients a sense of hope.
She had just undergone years of treatment for breast cancer when she had her picture taken by Sam Taylor-Wood.
Isla, 53, who is from Edinburgh said: “I hope they do give people hope. I really do believe that even if you have a terrible diagnosis there is hope to be found and joy to be had.
“I was a bit overwhelmed by how high-profile Sam was, but when I met her she was just lovely. She opened up a little about her own cancer experience which was a good way of making everyone getting pictures taken feel more relaxed and she told me how much she liked my name which felt really reassuring.
“It was all quite an experience and I am delighted that the pictures will now be on show in the hospital.”
Isla had a mastectomy with reconstruction, lymph node clearance, started chemo and had gone completely bald within five weeks of being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Unsurprisingly she was stunned by the situation she found herself in. She said: “Breast cancer was something I had heard of but I had no knowledge of it. I was only 46 at the time, none of my friends or family had experienced it, I wasn’t menopausal and simply had never thought it might be something that would happen to me.
“At the time my eldest son had just left home to go to university and the younger one was still at school, I just couldn’t believe I had cancer. I was stunned and terrified.”
Isla first felt a lump one night before she went to bed in November 2005, but it wasn’t until she came home from work the next night that she remembered about it, checked to see if it was still there and decided to visit her GP. “I had reassured myself with statistics on the internet which said that 86 per cent of lumps are benign and even the GP didn’t seem to think it was anything to worry about, but I was booked in for a biopsy in between Christmas and New Year. And because it was during the holidays it took much longer than normal to get the results.
“I just tried to get on with things and bury the fear the best I could but I was terrified there might be something wrong with me. Even still I was in no way prepared to hear I had breast cancer.”
Everything moved incredibly quickly for Isla but the day of her operation, when she discovered Maggie’s, proved to be a special one for her.
Isla, who was then an office manager, had also been made redundant and found herself searching for a new job while still undergoing treatment.
“My operation was delayed so I was going to go to the hospital café but it was so busy and I couldn’t face being around people.
“I found myself wandering around the hospital grounds when I saw a sign for Maggie’s. A man greeted me as I went in and asked how he could help. I told him I was just to sit for a while because my operation had been delayed. He asked how I felt about that and I just burst into tears. I realised everyone else around me had been scared and I had been trying to reassure them, but I was terrified too. Somehow though Maggie’s softened the fear.”