Photo excerpt from 10-Mile Radius.
BEING CONFINED TO A 10-mile radius of your home could feel like a punishment. For Cat Gwynn, it became a journey of self-discovery.
After a diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer, Gwynn underwent chemotherapy and radiation, as well as physical therapy and psychotherapy. Awash in side effects, immunocompromised and unable to work full time, she chose to stay on familiar ground in Los Feliz, the section of Los Angeles that has been her lifelong home.
Over three years, the professional photographer used her iPhone to document what she saw, creating stark and compelling images that reflect the humanity and beauty of the world around her. Shared in the book 10-Mile Radius (Rare Bird Books; 2017), her perspective shows viewers what they might otherwise miss — the striking geometric lines created by everyday structures, and an array of arresting colors and patterns of light.
Gwynn describes the project as “a gratitude practice in motion,” her way of embracing and engaging with the cancer experience.
“Color, form, reflections, ironies and insights appeared everywhere, prompting my impressionistic response. Moments normally overlooked now felt precious. It all called out for my attention,” she says in the book. “My mortality stripped away supposition and broadened my sense of connection. I attuned to the immediacy of each day and found my purpose. This unique form of journaling transformed my vulnerability into substance and conception into stories. Cultivating a playful imagination paved a joyful path forward into the unknown. The stronger my creative muscle became the more my heart and eyes opened. Everything felt possible.”
Photo excerpts from 10-Mile Radius.
The photos in 10-Mile Radius include landscapes and portraits of people Gwynn met along the way, strangers on the street or in coffee shops, some of whose stories she briefly tells. Other shots are accompanied by Gwynn’s thoughts or by short poems or quotes from other creative minds, including singer Patti Smith and writer James Baldwin.
Readers also learn about Gwynn’s story, challenges and outlook, as well as how the project taught her “the value of reframing life” and relationships. It proved to her, Gwynn wrote, that “love saturates the world.”
With treatment behind her, Gwynn is sharing the transformative nature of her photo journey with others. She developed 10-Mile Radius: Creating a Personal Map for Wellness, a program at recovery and wellness centers that emphasizes art creation and mindfulness as ways to help patients achieve what she calls “a shift in their personal narrative.”
Beautifully written and filled with captivating images, 10-Mile Radius is a worthwhile read for anyone who has been touched by cancer. It’s a testament to the possibility that being mindful of the world around us can lead to the discovery of beauty and wonder, even in the darkest of times.
CAT GWYNN is an award-winning Los Angeles-based photographer. Her images have been published in photo art anthologies, including Don Ed Hardy’s book Forever Yes: Art of the New Tattoo, and in many other publications, including Artforum, Texas Monthly and Artweek. More of her photographs can be seen at catgwynn.com.