How Artist Lisa Toboz Evokes Emotion And Understanding Of Chronic Illness Through Analog Photography By Exploring Her Own Journey Of Illness And Healing


Lisa Toboz is a self-taught photographer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her analog work can be found in various online and print publications, most recently in Shots Magazine, and in She Shoots Film: Self Portraits. She has exhibited internationally, and is a member of the 12.12 Project, an instant-film artists’ collective.

Toboz describes her series Dwell by stating,

"Dwell 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.”

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Toboz creates whimsically astonishing work by bringing a softness and dreamlike sensation to her work with the muted colors and subtle glitter technique.  She uses the Polaroid Spectra System to morph and exaggerate certain futures of herself and the atmosphere around her to make the narrative of her work more transparent, and ultimately more visually compelling. She does not seem to dwell at all; rather she seems to be radiating with strength and bold determination to discuss, acknowledge, and change the way people think about chronic illness. She does just that though using photography to explore and understand her journey and relationship she has with her chronic illness through powerful self-portraiture.

I wanted to discuss with Toboz about her thoughts behind her series Dwell, what feeds her desire to create art, why she chooses photography over other art forms, and what is next for her on her artistic journey.

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1. Your art practice is a representation of who you are, so what narrative or statement are you trying to vocalize through your artistic expression?

"Fearlessness, imagination, inner strength: These are attributes that carried me through one of the most difficult times in my life this past year as I battled lymphoma. I am in remission now, and throughout surgery and treatments, I worked on the Dwell series, a project that explores what it means to create with the mother-of-all-illnesses looming over everyday life. Working on this series provided not only an escape from reality, but also a sense of routine, comfort, and energy: healing through art.”


2. What feeds your untamable desire to create art?

"I love the meditative process of analog photography, which is why I love working with Polaroid. It requires patience to use the finicky film, and courage to accept that some of the shots may not turn out the way as planned. But that’s mostly true about any art form: pushing forward to create and letting down your guard to be in that moment are the most difficult things to do - film photography has taught me this patience and given me the freedom that I haven’t found in other mediums."

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3. Why photography, why does this medium of visual storytelling intrigue you? Why not another art form?

"Images are an extremely powerful communication form: in one shot, a chapter in life can be told. I search for images everywhere I go, scouting my surroundings for stories. I used to do this with fiction writing, words tumbling around in my head. But often the stories started with an image and took off from there. And as the years went on, I found that I was picking up a camera more often than sitting at a desk, typing. Photography requires us to be engaged with the world, and I often joke that it’s a “portable” art form because we can take photos at any time, anywhere. It’s a good balance of practical and creative that suits me personally too. "

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4. Who is the most impactful artist to you and how have they influenced your practice?

"Bertien Van Manen is a favorite photographer of mine. Her work is deceptively casual and intimate not only in subject, but also style: soft-focus shots sometimes flecked with dust and scratches - unusual framing that suggests she caught the person on film while she was on the go. Honest and unpretentious."

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5. What is next for you on your artistic journey?

"I’m eager to get out into the world again and explore with my camera since I spent the past year mainly at home. I also want to work on putting Dwell into book form, something I’ve wanted to do for awhile [create a book], but wasn’t sure which project I wanted to use to tell a story. I’m a little nervous about taking this next step, but if anything this year has taught me is that if I’m afraid in art, then I must go forward with it - you never know what will emerge when you push past fear and create."

Lisa Toboz is a genuinely mesmerizing visual artist that uses her voice to evoke change with her powerfully remarkable story of the battle and survival told through photographic arts.

Find more of Toboz's beautiful analog work:  Website: // IG and Twitter: @lisatoboz

Coverage by Alexis Karr 

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