Be Our Guest: When the World Stops

In Art Projects, Fine Art Photography, Guest, Inspiration
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We are honored to welcome guest Lisa Toboz. Lisa is a writer, editor, and analog photographer based in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work explores how art aids in physical and mental well-being through creative practice. She has exhibited and published internationally, and her most recent zine on the Dwell series is forthcoming this spring through French publisher, Polyseme. She is a member of the 12.12 Project arts collective, and is represented by Stefanie Schneider’s Instant Dreams Gallery. You can see her work at her website or on Instagram @lisatoboz

I never imagined I’d hear you have cancer, just as I never imagined that we’d all be witnessing a worldwide pandemic – yet in experiencing both, I assure you that art is survival.

While undergoing treatment for lymphoma a few years ago, I shot the Dwell project, a photo series exploring illness, recovery, and mortality, and if I didn’t have that project – an anchor in a rollicking sea of surgery, blood work, and chemotherapy – I would not have outpaced daily doldrums. I practiced “self-distancing,” the currently coined term that all chronically ill patients know well, and do, or else the consequences we face could mean life or death, quite literally.

It meant working from home, and missing Christmas with my family, or wearing a medical mask in public. Reading ghost stories from my childhood, and studies on how tumors blossom into malignancies – you spend a lot of time in isolation while the rest of the world goes about their lives. Now, we are all in isolation together, and it’s amazing to witness the creative ways people are coping with the uncertainty and fear of this looming virus.

When we are forced to stay indoors with limited physical contact to the outside world, we must find ways to mentally cope. Outdoors becomes dangerous as any tiny particle is threatening, and our brains start working overtime: what if, what if, what if?  Art is the escape from panic. Working under constraints quiets our inner critics, allowing us to break any barriers that usually prevent us from creating, and what emerges is freeing and healing, revealing parts of ourselves we never knew existed: inner strength and the power to connect universally through images. Art keeps us moving.

Our last regular Be Our Guest feature will run on April 24th. Until then, be well, everyone!



  1. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this series. Yes, art keeps us moving. Time and time again, in my own life, photography has been a lifeline, helping me to move through the painful parts of life. My husband has fought lymphoma twice and these photographs remind me of what it was like to dwell somewhere between whole and broken. All is see in these images is that inner strength we all possess. Beautiful work!

    • Donna, Thank you so much for sharing your story and for reading/viewing my work. I love what you said, how experiencing something such as cancer is like dwelling somewhere “between whole and broken.” My husband felt the same as he battled the disease with me. I’m happy to hear that photography helped you too, to get through those moments.

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