In April 2011, Angelo Merendino’s wife Jennifer was hospitalised. Diagnosed with breast cancer 2008, her condition had worsened and she remained there for two weeks. When she was discharged, doctors advised her to take a walk every day, so she wasn’t stuck in the
couple’s Manhattan apartment.
With no hair from chemotherapy, and a walking frame, Jennifer was “not what you would expect from a 39-year-old woman”, says Angelo, on the phone from New York. “We couldn’t cross the street without people staring.” Struck by people’s reactions – some shocked or pitying, others curious – he started to shoot these passersby when he and Jennifer were on their daily strolls. He photographed at hip height so people would react to her, not his camera. “We weren’t mad that people were staring. We just wanted to show this was what life was like for her.”
Angelo had already been documenting Jennifer’s battle with cancer, keen to show the daily reality of pills, injections, doctor’s appointments and paperwork, as well as the fear, sadness and frustration. He had no intention of making the photographs public, beyond friends and family, until he entered a few in a competition. It was then the emails started coming in – condolences, thanks for what he was doing, and experiences shared, all from strangers.
“From then on, we felt we had an opportunity to help other sufferers, and to give people who had no experience of cancer a deeper understanding of what it involves.”
Jennifer died on 22 December. She fell ill just five months after she and Angelo were married, in Central Park. He can still remember the numbness that enveloped him that day, and says it has still not left him. “Life is quite strange these days, and I am taking things a step at a time.”