How Bettina Bogar is provoking skin cancer awareness and empowerment through photos

By Anastasia Barbuzzi

Creative Director Katherine Murdick chats with a visitor about the  skinwork  exhibition. ( skinwork /Bettina Bogar)

Creative Director Katherine Murdick chats with a visitor about the skinwork exhibition. (skinwork/Bettina Bogar)

In a new photo exhibition called skinwork, Toronto-based photographer Bettina Bogar managed to highlight the female form, raise awareness for skin cancer, and pay tribute to a late friend, Heather Mundle, with a humble grace unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

At the exhibit launch event on International Women’s Day, a teary eyed Bogar stood before an audience ready to listen to a panel discussion about skin cancer prevention. She thanked friends and family for their attendance and took almost no credit for the alluringly curated, completely unedited collection of photos she put together with creative director Katherine Murdick.

“Heather was so passionate about skinwork and making it something bigger than us,” Bogar said. “We want to honour her life and her goal by doing as much as we can to encourage everyone to be aware of their skin’s health.”

The finer details

Featuring 60 Canadian women who have a special connection to the cause, Bogar’s exhibition took a unique approach to advocating for cancer prevention by focusing on skin markings left by melanoma. And for every skinwork print that’s sold, all profits go straight to the Melanoma Network of Canada – the movement’s official charitable partner.

Bettina Bogar shoots a close-up photo of a  skinwork  model. ( skinwork /Bettina Bogar)

Bettina Bogar shoots a close-up photo of a skinwork model. (skinwork/Bettina Bogar)

Bogar initiated skinwork last year with a select group of women including Heather Mundle. It was Mundle who passionately advocated for the project to be about skin cancer prevention having personally experienced melanoma earlier in her life. Unfortunately, Mundle’s cancer returned shortly after the project started and she sadly lost her battle to a metastatic melanoma in September of 2018.

While walking down the long hallway of wall to wall prints inside Artscape Youngplace with Murdick, skinwork’s creative director, a silence hung in the air as she described the last few months of working on the project with Mundle. Mundle never told anyone involved in the exhibition that her cancer came back.

“Being on-set, working with over 60 women was very emotional and empowering,” said Murdick. “This project has already touched so many people, myself included, and it feels incredible.”

A personal and sensory experience

As we watched launch party-goers and influencers float throughout the room, I was surprised to have recognized some of them in the photos displayed. With the slightest clue, like a strand of blonde hair, a freckled shoulder, or pair of sun-spotted cheekbones, I was able to match a person to a photo. It became easier for me to understand how every women that bared all for Bogar’s camera felt more confident about themselves afterward. Thanks to the direction of her and Murdick, they were able to see parts of themselves that they never appreciated before as truly beautiful.

Bettina Bogar (center) and Katherine Murdick (right) on set of the  skinwork  photo shoot .  ( skinwork /Bettina Bogar)

Bettina Bogar (center) and Katherine Murdick (right) on set of the skinwork photo shoot. (skinwork/Bettina Bogar)

That’s when viewing skinwork became a very sensory experience for me. I came across a print that emphasized a woman’s midsection and hips. She had a small scar on her side that was shaped like an irregular circle and it reminded me so much of one of my own - an imprint from a recent kidney surgery. Without knowing what I was really doing, my hand moved to touch that scar on my side. I then quietly reminded myself to love that little part of me even harder and get my skin checked for cancerous spots this year.

The girl with the scar in "SWG65", a print included in the  skinwork  exhibition at Artscape Youngplace. ( skinwork /Bettina Bogar)

The girl with the scar in "SWG65", a print included in the skinwork exhibition at Artscape Youngplace. (skinwork/Bettina Bogar)

Over the course of the two-day photoshoot that Murdick and Bogar orchestrated to capture skinwork, they became overwhelmed by the amount of generosity that local businesses showed them once they learned about the project’s mission.

“My dream is that skinwork becomes a movement. That this project emotionally connects with people so deeply that they take action – make a doctor’s appointment – get themselves checked and start taking care of their skin’s health,” said Bogar.

Though skinwork is no longer on display at Artscape Youngplace, I’m so happy to have seen it in the flesh while it was. You can now follow the movement on Instagram, purchase a print, or visit the website for more information. Hopefully we’ll be able to see skinwork travel to other Canadian cities soon.