Australian Beauty Queen Who Suffered 85% Burns In House Fire Poses Nude
A devastating house fire left a former beauty queen with 85% burns and a ’50/50 chance’ of survival – 20 years later, she’s posed nude in a world-acclaimed portrait.
Carol Mayer, from Cairns, Queensland, Australia, has no recollection of how the 2000 blaze began. All she knows is she and her 18-month-old son, Zac, managed to escape the home. While he was unscathed, she was in a coma for eight weeks, followed by nine months of intensive recovery in the burns unit, with more than 100 operations.
Fast-forward to today, 53-year-old Carol’s ‘real fighting spirit’ is evidenced by her latest collaboration with Brian Cassey, an award-winning photographer from London who’s currently working throughout Australasia. Her portrait, titled The Skin I’m In, has even been shortlisted for the Portrait of Humanity 2020 award.
While not understating the trauma of the burns, Carol, who won Miss North Aspley in 1983, explained that ‘you know that you will improve, you’ve got to be very patient, you learn to accept that this is just how it is, and you get this art of being patient’.
With burns it is physically and mentally hard for any human to go through. But if you’ve got that real fighting spirit, which is what I have, that’s what has got me through, sheer grit and determination. I just wasn’t going to let it beat me and when Brian approached me, I just thought this is a fantastic opportunity to show somebody the raw side of me.
Stripping down to her underwear was already a tough prospect for Carol, but ‘when Brian first approached me, the first thing I thought about was taking my headband off. I normally wear a headband because it makes me feel secure and I feel naked without it,’ she said.
You can see the acclaimed portrait below:
She described taking off the headband as the ‘oh wow’ moment – at that point, she knew the photo would make a big impact. ‘I’ve already lost a lot of my femininity, parts of my fingers, parts of my ears, without my headband I thought this is what you call a raw image… nothing of me to hide, what you see is what you get, I’m not hiding anything in this photo,’ she added.
Urging the importance of the portrait, Carol said:
I felt I was really putting myself out there, but I thought this is for a good cause, this is for people to realise; number one, your life can be gone in a heartbeat, number two, you need a fighting spirit, and number three, it’s about accepting, moving forward and holding your head up high. I wanted to show people you don’t have to be afraid to show the true human that you really are.
Carol had worked with Brian on photos back in 2011, swooping up the Nikon Walkley Portrait Prize in Australia and the National Press Association of America portrait prize. ‘After completing that job I couldn’t forget Carol,’ he said, as an idea to showcase ‘her amazing strength of character’ festered in his head.
He had some hesitation over asking her to ‘show the full impact that the fire had on her entire body’. However, over a coffee, she agreed – now, the pair are receiving worldwide attention.
It seems Carol and I have the same objective with these images – a message to others who may be in a similar burns situation that you are not alone and you really can do anything.
Courtesy of British Journal of Photography publisher 1854 Media, 100 winning photographs will be selected in September this year to be displayed all across the world, as well as on a screen floating 111,000ft above Earth.
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