Home Health Breast cancer, Letizia Battaglia’s photos and the search for beauty in disease

Breast cancer, Letizia Battaglia’s photos and the search for beauty in disease

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Breast cancer, Letizia Battaglia’s photos and the search for beauty in disease

“The meaning is to establish empathy between me and the person I photograph, who must also please you humanly, in some way. It must excite me… I generally choose to photograph who I like. In this case I found wonderful women and the empathy was also born because I knew they had this cancer problem. So with the camera I tried to tell a certain beauty… I have to look for something that is not in laughing beauty… Like the intuition of a living body I don’t know how to tell you”.

The words are of Joy Battle, interviewed in the backstage video of the 2023 calendar “La Battaglia delle donne”, in which the great photographer portrayed patients with cancer. The project – which has reached its sixth edition and whose title actually has nothing to do with its name – was wanted and created by Tricostarc, a Roman company specialized in wigs, but which is also a non-profit organization and brings forward a solidarity hair collection project to make wigs themselves more accessible to cancer patients.


Every year Tricostarc Onlus involves important names in photography to portray women who are facing chemotherapy and who have lost their hair. The possibility of having Letizia Battaglia’s eye behind the lens for the 2023 calendar is doubly significant: both for the gaze she has always had on women, and for the fact that she herself was suffering from breast cancer.

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The project

The project was presented last December 7 at the Maxxi (National Museum of XXI Century Arts) in Rome, where a temporary exhibition of the shots is being set up. The promoter is Giusy Giambertonepresident of Tricostarc Onlus and member of the Prometeus Foundation, which 11 years ago launched solidarity trichology: “It must be remembered that about 8% of women refuse chemotherapy treatment for fear of side effects and in particular of this side effect”.

Hair donation

One of their projects is the Banca della Parrucca: wigs that are given to patients on free loan. A journey that began about twelve years ago with the San Giovanni Hospital in Rome, which is increasingly expanding to include other Italian hospitals. The other is the hair donation, Hair Smile, directed by Monica Magini (it was his intuition to involve Battaglia): a gesture of solidarity that makes it possible to reduce one of the highest costs of prostheses, that of the raw material, the hair, and in this way to contain the cost of the wig which remains only that of manufacturing.

“Meeting Letizia Battaglia left me with a great sense of dignity even in suffering – continues Giambertone – The photographer was sick and suffering during the day of the shoot, and she was able to convey to the models-patients, the Tricostarc staff and all the people involved this great sense of dignity”.

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For once, exceptionally, Battaglia had not chosen his subjects. “I fall in love not with my gaze but with what my gaze welcomes at that moment”, he said in one of the last interviews given to Antonio Gnoli: “For me, despair is beauty, defeat is beauty, bad luck is beauty […] I have cancer and some nights I feel like my subconscious rebels. I’m scared and light the candles and try to sleep. I can do it for two hours. Sleeping pills do nothing for me. And so it’s difficult for me to recover my strength during the day. I have to watch over my fears, my insomnia. I know it’s hard for an 87 year old woman. But when I think about what I’ve done, I suddenly feel that my life has been worth living.”

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