Warren Perlstein – Featured LACP Member, August 2021
Warren Perlstein, recently retired, has had a 50+ year career as a commercial, industrial, architectural and fine art photographer. He has taught and mentored at the Chicago Photography Center in Chicago, IL. Through the Richard Stromberg Chicago Photography School and via Zoom, he hosts a popular Wine and Photo Critique meet up. On the first Friday of each month, professional and amateur photographers submit up to 3 images to present to the group for positive criticism and also submit one image for that month’s contest.
Warren’s career began as a wedding photographer. It was while shooting a wedding that he learned the valuable lesson which would shape the rest of his career. As he photographed a bride outside beneath a tree, a robin eating red berries, decided to poop on her veil and dress. The bride was screaming and crying. Surprisingly, the local dry-cleaner was an actual guest, so he grabbed everything and ran. He had it all cleaned and was back within an hour. When all was calm, and everyone was able to laugh at the situation, they asked Warren if he had a picture of it…he didn’t. It wasn’t a problem, but it was a bummer and he felt like he had let the couple down. This was going to be one of their favorite stories to tell. Warren learned how important it is to just “get the shot.” You may never use it, but nobody knows when a distressing moment might become an overwhelming memory.
Warren has extensively photographed the American Indian Center and its community in Chicago, IL. These images have been exhibited in the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Field Museum of Natural History, the Chicago Historical Society, the Illinois State Museum Art Galleries, the Trickster Cultural Center-2nd Floor Gallery, the Mayborn Museum in Waco, TX, Museo Nacional de Etnografia Y Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia and Museo Nacional de Arqueologia & Ethnologia de Guatemala, Guatemala City, Guatemala. Warren was a co-curator and contributor for the American Indian Center’s traveling exhibit and Arcadia Press book, 50 Years of Powwow. In March 2018, the same team exhibited Everybody Dance: 7 Decades of Powwow, at the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center-Scharpenberg Gallery in Chicago, IL.
Since August 2014, I have been collaborating on the most important and rewarding photography project of my life, 1 Cancer Patient, a series of photos concerning my daughter’s seven-year battle with metastatic breast cancer. The photographs I’m highlighting here are just a sample from this exhibition.
Originally, Traci and I planned to photo-document her cancer journey because she wanted to track her progress and she worried about not remembering important milestones while she was out-of-it from anesthesia or medication. I understood why she wanted me to take photos — my daughter was the bride beneath the tree. Even though she was constantly experiencing new and frightening things, there was a beauty in her and her husband, and all the medical support she had. Eventually, these photographs would become a witness and a teacher.
Over my long career, I have shot enough harrowing things that should’ve prepared me for anything, but I never thought I’d have to be prepared for an assignment of this magnitude. It certainly wasn’t easy at times. I was embarrassed to be moving around trying to get good angles while my daughter was lying in a hospital bed or receiving chemotherapy, but I took thousands of photos of her life-saving moments. I saw lighting, color, design, hope, happiness and love that created heart-warming and stunning photo ops.
Holding-Diagnosis 1 is a glimpse into Traci’s initial diagnosis of breast cancer in 2014. Comfort-Diagnosis 2 picks up in 2017 as Traci awaits surgery to remove the metastatic tumor in the spine of her neck. The rest of the photos from that time, follow her daily life wearing a neck brace. After complaining of relentless headaches in 2019, a trip to the ER revealed another metastatic tumor, this time, in my daughter’s brain. I took the photo Hospital Courtyard-Diagnosis 3 as we all tried to keep busy and enjoy our time together in the days leading up to her brain surgery.
Cancer During Covid Collab 1-Diagnosis 3 and Cancer During Covid Collab 2-Diagnosis 3 were both created during the 2020 national quarantine while Traci received chemotherapy treatment for her 3rd tumor. Her husband, Jim, is a talented painter who used his medium as an outlet during the toughest times. When I saw the artwork he dedicated to my daughter, I was inspired to collaborate with him even though we were 2000 miles apart. I am incredibly pleased with the balance that the combination of both of our mediums provided, with the chaos of Jim’s paintings and the calmness of my photography we found harmony in the images of Traci. These two collaborations are perfect examples of what family can accomplish together — even long distance.
I’ve tried to raise both of my daughters to believe that even inopportune times may be worth documenting. In return, Traci taught me that when we see ourselves represented in art, even amid our deepest battles, we find unity, courage, and purpose. Every step on a cancer journey can seem daunting, but as it’s traveled, a calming wisdom is achievable. The wisdom of 1 Cancer Patient supports people currently fighting cancer, as well as, thrivers navigating life after treatment. Personal and intimate images of Traci work together to ease fears of the unknown often experienced during the initial cancer diagnosis. With strength, beauty, and humor, her struggles with surgeries, hair loss, treatments, and everyday life are presented through raw imagery.
To date, 1 Cancer Patient has exhibited at: DANK Haus German American Cultural Center-pop up art gallery in Chicago, IL, Voices and Visions at The Art Center Highland Park in Highland Park, IL, and upcoming at the Trickster Cultural Center-2nd Floor Gallery in Schaumburg, IL.
I haven’t finished photo-documenting my daughter’s story, but her future looks exciting. 1 Cancer Patient is currently building a website, looking for an interested book publisher, and finding new locations to exhibit. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.
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