"Bob's photographs function on so many levels," Hajicek says. "He's an incredible formalist in terms of graphic balance, and he understands how things work on a plane. But from those basics, you can keep peeling the layers back. Bob explores all sorts of differences — being a male in a large, pink tutu, for one — to get to his point: We're all the same. He's a very special photographer."

After he graduated, Carey convinced Linda to help out with his commercial photography studio, and when chef Roxsand Scocos noticed his work and asked him to fill the walls at restaurant at Biltmore Fashion Park, he started printing.

Carey photographed Scocos and created a collection of his own portraits, which he printed in large format and set in custom-welded aluminum frames. "RoxSand's was where local artists really got noticed," he says. "And it is absolutely where I began."

Ballerina, created for Ballet Arizona in 2002.
Ballerina, created for Ballet Arizona in 2002.

His work stayed in the restaurant for seven years until it closed in 2003. Carey's had solo shows at Tempe's ASU Art Museum, downtown Phoenix's Bokeh Gallery, and Gilbert's Art Intersection (run by Panaro-Smith).

He acknowledges that his body of portraits has been dark but notes that the work (including pre-tutu) carried him through his wife's and sister's diagnoses, and the deaths of his two dogs. And when he and Linda moved to New York to make a go for his career in the big city, he decided to take his tutu with him.

Carey's on his second tutu (the first was worn out and replaced by one he made with his sister). And while the themes of pain and vulnerability felt in his self-portraits and his "One Image Every Day" project are apparent in his latest series, he emphasizes the humor in this new work. It's the humor that's pushed him to climb palm trees, lay in the middle of a busy New York City intersection, and stand in below-freezing temperatures, all while wearing a tutu. It's the humor, he says, that carries him and his wife through her second round of treatments and the "miracle" prescriptions she takes.

The "Ballerina" series wasn't always about breast cancer, he says. But when he threw himself into his work while his wife was undergoing treatments, there was an obvious connection. He was approached with an opportunity to raise money for research. It was then that everything fell into place.

This fall, Carey will self-publish Ballerina, a book that includes the collection of "The Tutu Project" portraits, as well as a foreword by Amy Arbus and backstory by New Times contributor Kathleen Vanesian. The net proceeds from sales of the book will go directly toward breast cancer organizations Cancercare.org and the Beth Israel Department of Integrative Medicine Fund. His goal is to raise $75,000.

"I'm so happy that people are responding, but, of course, I'm not surprised," says Panaro-Smith. "Bob's using this series as a means of catharsis. There's so much in every photograph about being vulnerable, while also being poignant and funny and also a little sad. This series — this book — is everything that is Bob."

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