In 1998, when Jessica Catherine Lieberman was a 27-year-old graduate student at University of Michigan, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma stage IIIB.
Lieberman, assistant professor of visual culture at Rochester Institute of Technology, shares her two-year medical journey in a new book, Becoming Visible, a personal testimonial about her experiences during treatments for her life-threatening illness.
In this candid documentary, Lieberman says she “stole” images of herself while undergoing chemotherapy treatment—using plastic Holga cameras and a Pentax K1000.
“This was before the enactment of the new HIPPA laws, and hospital staff told me I was banned from taking photographs or having copies of the images of my body from CT scans or MRIs,” says Lieberman. “So I hid disposable cameras underneath my sweatshirt or blankets and no one suspected anything because no one was really looking at me.”
Becoming Visible features 30 photographs and a dozen objects and medical scans that capture her physical and mental suffering. An artistic and academic contribution to the fields of trauma studies, disability studies and autopathography, Lieberman’s cancer journey reveals how the forces of art and narrative can contribute to social dynamics for change.
Therese Mulligan, chair of RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, says Lieberman astutely interweaves a diaristic mode of storytelling with blunt and candid snapshot photographs, medical documents and body scans.
“Text and image build upon one another, creating an intricate visual story of personal pathography, an intense examination of a life lived under constant threat of disease.”
Lieberman is now married to the man who stood by her side during her ordeal, Amit Ray, associate professor in the Department of English at RIT. And together they have two “miracle” children, Lucy and Kiran.
“There is no remission only because of how advanced my cancer was; I have what they call long-term disease free survival,” Lieberman says. “One of the text images in the book reveals the state of my health after treatment: Diet: Regular; Activity: As tolerated; Condition of patient at discharge: Alive.”
Lieberman teaches at RIT’s College of Liberal Arts and the graduate photography program in RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. She is currently working on a manuscript, Terror, Images and Traumatic Augmentation, a study of the circulation and reception of images from the advent of photography through the digital era. Lieberman’s teaching focuses on issues of gender, ethnicity and identity in contemporary American visual culture with particular emphases on the role of visual technologies and the ideation of illness and death.
Becoming Visible is published by RIT Press, the scholarly publishing enterprise at Rochester Institute of Technology. The book is available in softcover for $19.99 at http://ritpress.rit.edu or by calling RIT Press at 585-475-6766.