Dwell

And the Self-Portraiture Series

3 min read by Lisa Toboz. Published in Essays, Stories.

In the summer of 2017, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune condition that was connected to the one word nobody ever wants to hear: cancer. Following many scans and blood work, a splenectomy, a bone marrow biopsy, and chemotherapy, a year later, and my lymphoma is in remission. One of the things that helped me to cope with such a life-changing transition was photography — particularly self-portraiture — and thus Dwell came to fruition.

From the “Dwell” series, Polaroid Spectra, expired Impossible Project Spectra film.

I began photography in my 30s, using friends as models in my earlier darkroom days. But gradually I turned to self-portraiture when I needed a human to fill in my landscapes. I found freedom in being storyteller, director, and model — I loved having complete control over the orchestration of my work — and I haven’t stopped since. Now self-portraiture has become second nature to me, a way to not only tell stories, but to document aging, and explore emotions through art.

Dwell developed organically, out of what I normally do with self-portraiture — except this time, I had the mother of all illnesses looming over the process. How do people with chronic illness create — or more importantly, move forward with life? I explore this in the Dwell project, which served as an escape from the fear and drudgery (yes, boring: waiting for test results, the extremely focused, rigid medical routines) of the cancer experience.

“Forgotten House.” Polaroid Spectra, expired Impossible Project Spectra film.

The photos were shot with a Polaroid Spectra on integral Spectra film, sometimes using an F101 Spectra motion filter to create a blur effect.  The unpredictable nature of instant film mirrors the waxing and waning in cancer: Will the tumour shrink? How did this happen? When will I be “normal” again? Dwell is rooted in the physicality of the present, and the uncertainty of the future.

There is a middle ground between present and future, one where we float in the wings, waiting for answers. In the meantime, we create.

All of the images above are from “Dwell” series, shot on Polaroid Originals Spectra film. Except second-last image, which is from the “Forgotten House” series, shot on Impossible Project Spectra.