Robin Macmillan conquers cancer, follows photography dream
By Chris Simon
Robin Macmillan followed her dream because of breast cancer.
The Newmarket resident was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 39 more than five years ago.
Until then, she had worked as a film prop buyer and commercial producer and only dabbled in photography, mostly practicing the art form as a hobby. But the diagnosis, which came only a few days after her daughter’s first birthday, forced Macmillan to realize how short and precious life can be.
“She was just a baby; I was shocked,” Macmillan said Monday. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to see her second birthday. It’s a pretty barbaric thing you have to go through; it was a tough time.”
So, Macmillan decided to pursue her desire to become a professional shutterbug. After eight months of treatment, Macmillan recovered, is now cancer free and has dedicated her life to interpreting the world through a camera lens.
“After my diagnosis, I realized I needed to become more creative in photography,” she said.
“That’s when everything changed. Life is short and no one knows how long they have. You don’t get that until you’re faced with it. Everyone lives in this ignorant bliss of invincibility. I needed to be more creative because that’s what I was good at.”
Macmillan appeared in the 2010 Faces of Courage calendar — which raised money for radiation equipment at Southlake Regional Health Centre — worked on the Marlene’s Meal Makeovers cookbook and was recently profiled on The Weekly Flickr.
“She is truly a talented and inspirational person,” said Julie Achtermeier, a friend who worked on the calendar with Macmillan. “(She has) an amazing story of courage, survival and passion.”
Macmillan relies on her instincts and heart while shooting. For her, great photography isn’t about appealing to the masses.
“I feel grateful to watch a Christmas concert or to watch (my daughter) go to a guitar lesson,” she said. “It changed my confidence level. All of a sudden, it doesn’t matter what other people think of your work. It’s about what I love to do and what makes me happy. It was a really easy transition. I didn’t set out with the purpose of inspiring people; there’s so many stories like me. But I was given the platform.”
She’s gaining international recognition as a fine art photographer and specializes in underwater scenes and portraits. Macmillan’s also working on the ongoing Footprints series, which focuses on environmental issues such as deforestation and pollution.
“I’m trying to do what I can to clean up the environment,” she said, noting cancer has forced her to live healthier. “It’s the body of work I’m most proud of.”
Her art appeared on the Vogue Italia website and several music CDs and in Fluster and Below magazines and the International Photography Awards. And prints have been shown in New York City as part of the digital show The Story of the Creative and at a solo exhibition in Toronto.