Artist Lisa Toboz: Dwell

Written by Anne Silver


““Healing is more about accepting the pain and finding a way to peacefully co-exist with it. In the sea of life, pain is a tide that will ebb and weave, continually.  We need to learn how to let it wash over us, without drowning in it. Our life doesn't have to end where the pain begins, but rather, it is where we start to mend.” 
― Jaeda DeWalt



The capacity for healing that art brings about is monumental.  When I worked as a psychotherapist, I often held sessions with my clients where they were invited to make art.  The outcome was irrelevant; it wasn't about creating a pretty picture.  What mattered, in this case was the pause, the intention, the process.  The point of these sessions was to find another way to express all the fears and questions and losses and worries and hopes that were swirling about like whirlpools around inside their heads, to give voice to all those things for which there are oftentimes no words.  Sometimes words fail us.  Our language, while powerful, vast, and lyrical, can fall short.  How often have poets struggled to find just the right turns of phrase to describe a joy, a loss, a heartache?  Thankfully, we have poets to help us make sense of the unfathomable, but not all of us has the ability to convey things in those terms.  Art can fill in those gaps.  It allows us to express emotion in an entirely different way, one which bypasses the language areas of the brain and yet speaks loudly and clearly.  Art helps us heal, and it connects us to others.  It becomes a place where we start to mend. 

It takes courage to dig deep and lend our artistic voice to the things that would make our speaking voice quaver, and it takes immense talent and finesse to do it in such a way that leaves the viewer stunned by the beauty of what she is seeing.  

Lisa Toboz is one of the bravest and most authentic artists I know.  In her Dwell series, Lisa not only confronts, but reconciles, the scary terrain of illness and wellness, mortality and life, loss and healing.  As a member of the instant photography community, her kindness is palpable, cutting through the coldness of the platform that is the internet with warmth and encouragement.  The world needs more authentic kindness.  But Lisa's bravery in continuing to create gorgeous, ethereal photos as a way of coping with her cancer diagnosis and treatment... now that is truly inspiring!  Most people would have been compelled to hide, perhaps hunkering down into a self-protective bunker while going through the process of surgery and chemotherapy.  Not Lisa.  Her grace in coexisting with her illness and in not letting it overtake her, in not allowing herself to drown in it, is a model that we would all do well to aspire to, regardless of our struggles.  Lisa's work and her process beautifully illustrate the concept of resilience.

I recently had the honor of speaking with Lisa and asked her to a tell a little bit about her Dwell series, the process of creating it and what it has come to mean to her as she has continued on the road to recovery and healing.


Lisa tells us:

"The Dwell series explores the worlds of illness and healing, and how photography joins the two, showing that sickness does not mean one is confined to a bed. We go about our daily lives, quite possibly not knowing anything is 'wrong,' and often, a chronic illness is left unspoken, remaining a secret to outsiders. Using Polaroid film, I navigate these public and private spheres through dreamlike self-portraiture sequences, bridging the house of sickness to the road of remission - one where I come through to the other side transformed.


"Dwell came about during a year of first, being diagnosed with a rare autoimmune condition, which later was discovered to be connected to lymphoma. All of this came as a shock because aside from the autoimmune rash and some fatigue, I felt 'normal' - no pain or apparent cancer symptoms. To know that a tumor was growing behind my left rib cage was surreal. And because I felt normal, it was easier to go about daily life working, socializing, and taking photos.


"As the tumor grew, so did my need to create. It’s not something of which I was completely aware in the beginning of the project, but I realize now that with each photo I took, I was leaving behind a memento mori of sorts. I had read a lot about spirit photography, and how film was manipulated to make 'ghosts' of loved ones appear. There is an ethereal quality to these works, and it comforted me to think of ways that photography not only records physical presence, but also an intangible one: how do we document our inner world? Friends had asked if I would be documenting my cancer experience through photography, and I realized I had already been doing this with Dwell, just not in a documentary style. What interested me more was coming to terms with mortality by leaving behind some kind of record and showing a side of chronic illness that only the chronically ill can understand: that life keeps pushing forward, despite the difficulty.


"In our previous conversations, you had asked if making self-portraits also helped me maintain my identity as 'Lisa' as opposed to 'someone with cancer.' When I learned I would be losing my hair to chemo, the first thing I thought was, now everybody will know. Part of Dwell’s role was keeper of secrets, showing how art persists, despite everything being seemingly okay. As I had surgery, then chemotherapy, the physical changes couldn’t be concealed any longer, so I had to be braver about sharing this with outsiders; the only way that felt natural was through art. I felt less afraid and more connected to and in control of my disease through photography. I often wondered not why this happened, but how, and marveled that despite my body creating such a thing as a splenic tumor, I could keep going about my business. Self-portraits became a visual diary of ongoing treatments, serving practical purposes in creative ways. They also became a validation of my existence, proof that I walked through this tiny life at some point in time, leaving an artifact by which to remember me."



Lisa Toboz earned her MFA in Writing from the University of Pittsburgh and is a copy editor for TABLE magazine. Her instant film work can be found in various publications including Shots Magazine, The Hand Magazine, and as a featured artist in She Shoots Film: Self Portraits. Her work explores self-portraiture and the forgotten landscapes in and around the rust-belt region, primarily through integral film. She has exhibited internationally and is a member of the 12.12 Project, an instant-film artists’ collective that interprets monthly themes through analog techniques. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, artist Jeff Schreckengost.


You can see more of Lisa's work on Instagram and on her website.  



*All photos are ©Lisa Toboz 2018 and cannot be used without her written permission. 

©PRYME Editions, 2018.  No portion of this article can be reproduced or reprinted without written permission from the author.  


Artist Lilian Wildeboer: Where the Wild Orchids Grow

Written by Anne Silver


“It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.”

Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses


In between it all, between the one great mystery the other, there is art, that savagely beautiful landscape of the soul.  Artists create new worlds for us to explore. They bring us to the edges of places that exist somewhere in the space between memories and dreams, new lands where we escape this hard-edged world and lose ourselves for a while.   They possess the rare ability to make us suspend our grip on reality.  They speak to us of the possibility of all things.  For a few moments, we recall the sense of wonder that accompanied us throughout childhood, we feel a lightness of spirit, and allow our selves to drift off, carried away with the flutter of fairy wings.  

In her series “Where the Wild Orchids Grow,” Dutch artist Lilian Wildeboer has created a world beyond the boundaries of imagination.  Lilian is one who often pushes the limits of what is possible in photography, leaving her viewers to ask themselves in a state of amazement, “How did she do that!?”   Some things are better left unexplained. I prefer to let the mystery of Lilian’s genius remain hidden among the shadows, carefully concealed outside of the frame of her beloved Polaroid cameras.  

“Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and falling. And I do.” 
― Mary OliverHouse of Light



“That night, I fell into a deep, travel-weary sleep, lulled by the familiar sound of the waterfall beyond the window. I dreamed of the beck fairies, a blur of lavender and rose-pink and buttercup-yellow light, flitting across the glittering stream, beckoning me to follow them toward the woodland cottage. There, the little girl with flame-red hair picked daisies in the garden, threading them together to make a garland for her hair. She picked a posy of wildflowers- harebell, bindweed, campion, and bladderwort- and gave them to me.” 
― Hazel GaynorThe Cottingley Secret


Lilian Wildeboer is a Dutch photographer who lives near Amsterdam, Netherlands.  She has been a devotée of instant film since 2010 when she was captured by its magic.  Using a variety of instant cameras and films, as well as an arsenal of traditional art materials, Lilian creates images that are uniquely her own.  She is never afraid to experiment or to fail, and her failures are often repurposed into something else.  Lilian's creativity, curiosity, and resilience inspire us to embrace challenges, to re-examine how we look at things, and to see "failures" as invitations to explore other ways of making images.

Lilian tells us that she has always had a love of botany and has enjoyed taking macro images of the wild orchids that she searches out in the woods and fields close to her home.  The series "Where the Wild Orchids Grow" evolved from her love for these rare and elusive flowers and her penchant for creating beauty.  

You can view more of Lilian Wildeboer's photography on Flickr and on Instagram.  




All photos in this article are the exclusive property of ©Lilian Wildeboer, 2018, and cannot be used or reproduced in any fashion without the written permission of the author.  


©PRYME Editions, 2018.