“[Stephen] reminds us that the future is unknown to all of us. As such, this project is a call to live in the moment, to acknowledge that the universe is vast and that we are all bits of matter that exist long after our bodies are put to rest.” —Aline Smithson
“Every cancer hospital should share Stephen’s book to start bringing healing to their space.” —Sue Robins, author and cancer survivor
Shortly after receiving a diagnosis of incurable cancer, Toronto based photographer Stephen Starkman began this project. Wishing to visually document his experience, the images throughout this book are at times concrete and visceral, and at other times abstract and ethereal–much like we humans who are a beautiful, messy composite of how we think and feel, the blending of our conscious and subconscious selves.
Starkman’s diagnosis of cancer means he has weeks or months left to live on this Earth. He shares that these photographs serve as an invitation to “open a conversation on mortality/death as seen uniquely through first-hand experience.” Art in its purest form can serve as a bridge to communicate between artist and viewer, and in that process, there can be an expansion of perspectives. This dialogue is an important element of this project for Starkman. He continues, “The book is about life, as seen from the perspective of impending death.”
Starkman’s work as a photographer over the years prior to this project, has taken him around the world, but the images in this book reflect a back and forth play between the immediacy of the universe of the hospital, along with scenes of the everyday and the here and now, of the “soon to be lost,” he writes. There is sweeping sky and swirling clouds when he looks up, a pattern in stone flooring when looking down, ripples across a majestic lake when looking outward.
The book also includes quotes from other cancer survivors reflecting on their experience navigating the disease, and reinforces recurring themes of fear, isolation, fatigue, and the work of the journey itself. Poems by cancer survivor Joanne Boyce also appear in the book.
A photography mentor of his, Jonathan Blaustein, is one of three writers who contributed essays for this book and in this Blaustein reflects on how the book combines these various elements of imagery and words. He writes, “The antiseptic, hospital photographs, alongside the honest, thoughtful quotes from other cancer patients, also give the book an unmissable message. Life is short yet filled with moments of wonder.”
Through both his photographs and words, Starkman authentically provides the viewer with a small glimpse at the confounding and complex array of emotions that accompany a medical journey such as this. He writes of the dichotomies of hope and fear, the physical manifestations of fatigue and brain fog accompanied by a strong pull and need to continue working on this book project.
“My wife, Debi, taught me to live for today. To lock up what’s overwhelming and be in the moment. To live as fully as possible every minute, every hour, every day. However, as always, peeking around the corner is fear – and a clock that’s ticking. And yet, I still want to have hope.”
About the Artist:
Stephen L Starkman is a visual artist based in Toronto, Canada. His work has been shown internationally and published in several book projects. Starkman strives to create bodies of work that exhibit a strong focus on aesthetic and creative values. Recently his interests have shifted towards internally driven emotional photographic explorations that evolve with every iteration. He is committed to personal growth and exploration and open to the new worlds which now abound such as the subject of this book. To buy the book, go here.
The Proximity of Mortality: A Visual Artist’s Journey through Cancer is self-published by Stephen L Starkman.
The Proximity of Mortality
A Visual Artist’s Journey Through Cancer
Photographs and writing by Stephen L Starkman
Essays by Nicholas J Petrelli, M.D., Aline Smithson, and Jonathan Blaustein
Contributions by Joanne Boyce
96 pages, 45 color photographs
Trim size: 12” wide x 11” tall
Pricing: $65 US / $80 CAN
To purchase a copy of the book, go here: