Remembering Stephen Starkman

We at Photolucida were saddened to hear of the passing of Critical Mass 2023 finalist Stephen Starkman, a lens-based visual artist from Toronto, Canada. On September 6th, Stephen passed away from his battle with small cell cancer, which had been the focus of his work since his diagnosis. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, and everyone in the photo community who knew him.

If you’d like to donate in Stephen’s honor, his charity of choice is Hearth Place, Cancer Support Centre in Ontario, Canada.

Images and statement below from Stephen’s CM23 submission.

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Life has a way of not only shifting one’s thinking but creating seismic shifts in who we think we are and what the future holds. Stephen Starkman experienced an earthquake of sorts as he began to navigate his cancer diagnosis. From the beginning, he was pragmatic and shared an honest telling of his experience. Throughout the journey, he reconsidered his photographs, seeing them from the new perspective of two roads: the internal emotional landscape and the topography of cancer treatment. In his book, The Proximity of Mortality: A Visual Artist’s Journey Through Cancer, the geography of these terrains is expressed both allegorically and truthfully, giving us an insight into the magnitude and complexity of the cancer experience.

Stephen’s intuitive and metaphoric photographs speak to the universe in all its glory. He shows us the magnificence of light, the transience of clouds and the seasons, the beauty of rushing water, and a single leaf making its way down a river. He observes how light moves across a room, the kaleidoscope of dew on blades of grass and how snow obscures and reveals. The most beautiful thing in the universe is the human ability to comprehend it and Stephen takes the time to witness the magic in front of him.

He also shares the reality of his journey – the empty hospital rooms, cold and sterile, filled with machines and warnings of Covid 19. One finds no comfort in these spaces, and they remind us how solitary and lonely the experience is.

Stephen presents the yin and the yang of his life, the wonderous and the antiseptic, the glorious and the difficult. He 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. I am forever changed by knowing Stephen, his allowing me to bare witness to his journey, his heroism, and his heart. His photographs provide a visual language that expresses this challenging journey, reminding us that life is unpredictable and at the same time, spectacular.

Aline Smithson

©Stephen L Starkman, Book Cover for The Proximity of Mortality