Photographer: Cat Gwynn (born in Glendale, CA; lives in Los Angeles)
Publisher: Red Bird Books, Los Angeles, CA; © 2017
Essays: Notes by Cat Gwynn; Quotes
Hardcover, sewn; 136 pages, paginated; color photographs; 10 ¼ x 10 inches; printed in Canada
Photobook Designer: Kathy Martens
Occasionally I have written about the value of art as an important way of getting in touch with yourself and about its therapeutic value, for instance in my review of Rose Lynn Fisher’s The Topography of Tears. In the case of Cat Gwynn’s 10-Mile Radius, we are privileged to accompany a courageous photographer on her journey (that touches many emotions as well as the intellect), in which her visual explorations contributed strength during the tribulations of cancer treatments, leading to a successful outcome of full remission.
An avid devotee of meditation, Cat was diagnosed with a serious form of breast cancer in 2013, and, as the therapy treatments progressed, found that her habit of photographing daily allowed her to strengthen both her resolve to succeed as well as to engage with the world out there, to notice objects that might previously have seemed peripheral, and also to make new friends that she encountered on the short walks her energy allowed. Cat Gwynn’s strength was the authenticity she aimed for – true to herself and with a vision to give the situation a substantial dose of optimism, regardless of momentary difficulties. I would like to quote at length from what she wrote to me, because the advice she gives contains important lessons for all of us:
My 10-mile radius creative process had many layers of meaning to it. Primarily it was one of the only things I had any control over – everything else in my life was so much out of my control and this daily photo making practice was my way of sitting with immense uncertainty and settling into the present moment of ‘what is’ and finding beauty despite everything else. It was also a brilliant ’seeing’ exercise. We tend to not look at the things in our life that scare us or make us uncomfortable so I discovered over time by looking closely at life around me without filtering what I saw it helped me look at the very thing that threatened me with more courage and in doing so it actually helped me be with this illness more fully which opened my heart to myself and helped me heal, and my oncologist and therapist both felt that was true also. As I say to other people I meet going through a serious life threatening illness – you don’t have to be positive, it’s much more important to be authentic. Some days you will be down and that’s okay, feel down. And other days you will feel great and be with that and appreciate it. The most important aspect of being with all of your feelings is you learn they will pass and there’s no need to stay attached to any of them or shame yourself for thinking if you’re not always positive this will bring back the cancer. It won’t. Just be authentic.
The book Cat has created is full of authentic moments, and I also detect much optimism. The excellent fine-art images and well-chosen interspersed quotes allow us to share an astute observer’s inner and outer worlds and the connections between them. Tension, anxiety, calm contemplation, and moments of enlightenment and joy are all connected in such a journey. Some of the titles she gives to her images give you glimpses of her process as well: “Hung Out to Dry” – “Hit the Wall” – “Connected” – “Belonging” – “At Peace with the Obvious.” We are also privileged to read several essays dealing with her experiences and with the significance of visualization and grounding. We are able to share many observations that we might otherwise not be able to find out about. For an artist, such “moments of creation” have a significant impact, in that the world out there and what is inside of you can merge to provide some meaningful bits of closure. We also are pleased to see and read about some of the Angelenos she met and befriended on her walks. Thus we not only are able to enjoy this photobook, but can also share in her profound journey.
An amazing experience to share this photobook and its meanings on many levels!