“I wanted to show hope,” said Fox from Brookline, Mass., whose “Illuminating the Survivor Spirit; A Photographic Journey” project continues to expand and evolve. “The beauty of the person, the ugliness of the disease.”

Where do you look first, at their faces or their scars?


Photographer David Fox’s portraits of breast cancer survivors offer a bracing view of battling cancer, but, more importantly, they also put a face on the disease.


Face first or scar first? It doesn’t matter. It’s where the gaze lingers longest that’s significant, and that’s in their eyes and in their smiles. You’re moved by their plight, touched by their defiance, uplifted by their expressions of joy and warmed by the touches of love and support that infuse so many of the frames.


You see it in the loving gaze of a child looking up at her surviving mother –– too young to fully understand the battle she’s waging, but old enough to realize how deeply she loves her mom.


“I wanted to show hope,” says Fox from Brookline, Mass., whose “Illuminating the Survivor Spirit; A Photographic Journey” project continues to expand and evolve. “The beauty of the person, the ugliness of the disease.”


Fox’s photos — more than 70 and counting — support the Art beCAUSE Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 2000 by Ellie Anbinder to raise funds for research dedicated to eradicating environmental causes of breast cancer.


Fox’s photos have helped tell the story with a 2010 calendar that benefited the foundation, a gallery exhibit at the New England Art Institute in Brookline and a new calendar for 2011 that tells a lesser-known part of the war on breast cancer: men with breast cancer.


The calendar, “Men, Breast Cancer and the Environment,” will be released on Oct. 1, kicking off Breast Cancer Awareness Month.


“David’s photographs help us put a face on what breast cancer looks like — female and male,” says Anbinder. “His work is extremely sensitive and revealing.”


Fox’s journey to Art beCAUSE and his cancer survivor portraits began with a dreadful first step: his wife, Toby, was diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago. Sadly, she died from the disease in 1991, at the age of 34.


Suddenly, Fox was a single dad raising two kids, 4-years-old and 1-year-old.


But, “after some soul-searching,” he knew he wanted to do something in the fight against breast cancer. Sparked by a National Breast Cancer Coalition project that featured photographs of women who had died from the disease, Fox hatched a similar idea, but with a twist:


“I wanted to photograph people who were alive,” said Fox.


When Anbinder was looking for a concept for her Art beCAUSE fundraiser about two years ago, Fox’s portrait idea resurfaced.


“You know what?” Anbinder told Fox. “It’s time to do it.”


It was uncharted territory for Fox and his subjects.


“I approached it from the point of view that this is what I do every day –– I’m a portrait photographer,” he says. “It’s about capturing their spirit, their essence ... I needed to get to know them, so I had about a five-minute conversation with them before taking any pictures. ‘What has this experience been like?’ ‘Why did you want to be part of the photo project?’”


For many of them, “this was an important part of the journey,” said Fox.


His only request to his subjects: Bring something or someone who’s important to you.


Fox photographed a wide range of people –– from ages 24 to a woman in her 80s. People as close as his own neighborhood and from as far away as Florida and Texas. Some people had been through treatment and were considered cured. Others were in the middle of it.


“You hold it together during the photo shoot,” Fox said. “But the sessions were emotionally draining.”


Toby was never far from his thoughts, especially when he photographed a 40-year-old woman with two children. “It brought it home to me,” he says.


The Art beCAUSE Foundation is dedicated to drawing more attention to the environmental causes of breast cancer. Anbinder says 90 percent of people with breast cancer have no family history.


“That means it’s coming from outside the body,” Anbinder said.


Stark evidence to support the point: The disturbing case of Fort Lejeune in North Carolina, where more than 60 men who lived there or were stationed there may have been exposed to a contaminated water supply and have since been diagnosed with breast cancer.


These men were the subjects of Fox’s newest calendar. Many of the men who made the trip up to Fox’s studio in Framingham, Mass., wanted to make a statement.


“Some of the men were angry about the whole situation,” Fox said. “A lot of the guys were really upset. Some had wonderful attitudes. Others had not-such-wonderful attitudes.”


In one of the more poignant photos, a man named Mike (only first names are used to protect the subject’s privacy) brought a photo of himself as a baby. In the picture, he’s held by his mom and on the table beside them is a glass of water, the same water that may have been contaminated.


When asked if there were ever any tears during a photo shoot, Fox doesn’t hesitate, “Oh, yeah, we all cried. Even the Marines. Big tough guys. But it’s an emotional subject.”


The project has been a labor of love for Fox, and he was reminded this year why the work is so important. In March, he received an e-mail from Rebecca, a pregnant woman in her 30s who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She had been surfing the Web to find some encouraging news, but everything she found sounded dire –– until she clicked on Fox’s photos. Soon she was in Fox’s studio, being photographed for the project.


Fox didn’t need to ask her why she had come to his studio. She made it pretty clear in the first email she sent him: “Your pictures were the first thing to lift my spirits.”


Visit www.artbecause.org for David Fox’s new calendar, released on Oct. 1. Or visit his site at www.davidfoxphotographer.com.