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June 18, 2014
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Punk Rock Mommy at F&N Gallery
by Mary Anna Rodabaugh

The Clay Studio “If you are reading this, it means I have passed.”

These were the first words of Andrea Collins Smith’s last blog post, July 5th, 2008. Her blog, Punk Rock Mommy: Andrea Collins Smith and the Great Cancer Swindle, continued to thrive after her passing through posts by family members, friends, and those inspired by Andrea’s spirit.

Andrea, dedicated wife and mother of six children, was diagnosed with Stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) in 2007. She decided she wanted to document her journey, and with the help of Jonathan Olshefski, Andrea started her blog, or as she liked to refer to it, her “online journal.” Olshefski and Andrea began the project, which chronicled Andrea’s daily life with cancer. Olshefski took over 1,200 photos of Andrea, her family, her treatment, her good days, and her not so good days.

Nearly six years and a lot of work later, Olshefski carefully chose some of his most moving photos and opened the exhibit, Punk Rock Mommy: Digital to Analogue, on First Friday at the F&N Gallery at 2009 Frankford Avenue. The exhibit featured twelve photos captioned by Andrea’s own words from her writing, two video presentations, and an interactive critique wall with potential layouts for a Punk Rock Mommy book. Visitors were encouraged to write feedback on sticky notes and post them right onto the page layouts.

The exhibit attracted many visitors, some who knew Andrea personally and some who never met her but felt they knew her through her blog.

“It is interesting how different people respond based on their own experiences,” Olshefski said. “It is a tough story and I wish it ended differently, but Andrea left us a gift with her words and writing.”

In the photo entitled Punk Rock Mommy 9, Andrea sits with a pained expression on her face as a doctor administers medication from a syringe to her port in her chest. Andrea’s head rests against a wall. From this photo alone, viewers get a small dose of her pain.

Below the photo, Andrea writes: “Before I knew it tears were streaming down my face and running into my ears. All I could think was, ‘God please get me out of here.’ These are the things that wear me down. They get inside my psyche. The culture of sickness. Indoctrination into the cult of cancer.”

Punk Rock Mommy 12 shows Andrea sitting on the beach, her “Poisoned Girl” tattoo, a tribute to being “poisoned” by chemo, is displayed proudly on her upper back. She is looking down at the sand. The caption begins with her fateful words: “If you are reading this, it means I have passed.”

The entire exhibit captured Andrea’s raw and honest emotion, her love for her children, and her willingness to live through the pain and struggle caused by her disease. Olshefski printed the photos in a darkroom on fine art archival paper from 35mm film negatives.

Two videos ran on a loop during the exhibit. The first video contained black and white photos and projections on a large screen. The second, more intimate video played on a television in the corner of the gallery surrounded by a couch and several chairs. This video contained a home video of Andrea and her family as well as a slideshow of photos with Andrea narrating throughout the presentation. Just hearing Andrea’s voice in the film proved to be an emotional experience for those present who knew her.

A statement posted by the large screen film summed up the exhibit perfectly: “This is a visualization of Andrea’s central message. It is metaphor for the lived moment and its complexity. Pay attention to the now. Joy merges with sorrow, laughter with tears.”

You can read Andrea’s blog at www.punkrockmommy.org. Olshefski is currently working on Punk Rock Mommy the book, which will contain a more in-depth collection of Andrea’s writing.