Photographer Paige Greene celebrates 13 years of being cancer-free with a one-night exhibit at Barret Bar

Paige Greene celebrates 13 years of being cancer-free. | Courtesy of Paige Greene

At 14, Louisvillian Paige Greene was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Enduring nine months of chemo and 15 weeks in the hospital, Greene survived, albeit changed — stronger, more resilient and empathetic to the struggles of others.

At 17, she joined the yearbook staff and was assigned to take photos. She immediately fell in love with the craft, and in 2011, she merged her passions with an exhibit titled “Redefining Normal,” which included candid photos of children battling cancer.

Tonight, March 10, Greene is showcasing a snippet of that exhibit, plus new photos of those affected with cancer, to celebrate 13 years of being cancer-free. The one-night-only event will be held at Barret Bar from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Insider caught up with Greene the day before her show to find out more about what inspired her to take on the project. She says Friday’s exhibit includes five of the original 20 images from “Redefining Normal,” as well as seven new ones. The photos from the first iteration were taken at Kosair Children’s Hospital (now called Norton Children’s Hospital), the same place Greene was a patient, and the new ones are more focused on young adults.

“Through these photos, I aim to show these children as they are — simply kids who just happen to be sick,” she explained in the exhibit’s original artist statement. “I want people to see how normal these kids are instead being afraid to look at them or talk about it. Kids are more resilient than we think, and I hope you can see the good in that.”

Photo by Paige Greene. She explains: “This is Beth, who had it on her bucket list to participate in the Color Run. She passed away last summer to a brain tumor.”

Greene also wrote in the statement that by using portraits of the children, it allowed her to represent different aspects of the emotions involved.

“The children I photographed only represent a small fraction of the 85 children diagnosed with cancer at Kosair Children’s Hospital in 2010,” she wrote. “Although these children may have different types of cancer and received different treatments, they share a common bond — being kids and having cancer.”

That first show in 2011 was well-received, says Greene, and she found it interesting that people who have been touched by cancer viewed the photos differently than people who never have.

“Cancer is this two-sided coin of pain on one side (the deepest of raw pain and emotions people can feel, including the fragility of life and death), and the other side is the beauty in strength and endurance (and love, so much love),” she says. “And so I think the show was really hard to look at for some, because it’s really hard to get past the initial grave reality that is childhood cancer.”

Some of the photos are of children who didn’t survive, but even with that in mind, those looking at the photos who were familiar with childhood cancer didn’t see sad pictures at all.

Greene believes the strength she developed from fighting cancer at such a young age led her to photography. The very first time she picked up a camera, at that yearbook meeting, something just clicked.

“Everything about my love of photography has more to do with cancer than anything else in my life,” she says. “What photography allowed me to do was freeze time — it allowed for permanence in a world that is so temporary and fleeting. And it wasn’t just being able to freeze time — I could freeze moments, that laugh would be forever, that personality, that pain, that strength.”

Photo by Paige Greene. She explains: “This is Emily. She had ovarian cancer in 2011, and this was taken a few months after she ended her first battle. Since this photo, she had a relapse but survived that as well and is now a full-time music therapist.”

Greene is now pursuing a political science degree at UofL and plans on using the camera to complement her studies.

“What I’m hoping to do is be able to do more projects like this, but with grown-up research attached — political science research,” she explains. “‘Redefining Normal’ is a broad concept saying, ‘What is normal to you is not normal to me, so let me show you these pictures to help redefine your definition of normal and maybe you can see things differently. Let’s break down these walls that keep you from understanding.’ And I think that notion can be applicable to other issues, causes and concerns in research for other projects.”

13 Years Cancer-Free Celebration featuring ‘Redefining Normal’” is free to attend. It begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 10, at Barret Bar, 1012 Barret Ave.