The Proximity of Mortality – Interview With Stephen Starkman

A Visual Artist’s Journey Through Cancer

What would you do if by the end of the day you knew you had an incurable cancer and were destined to die in the not-so-distant future?  

This is the story of Stephen Starkman. Stephen and I met way back in 2005 on a Luminous-Landscape trip to Antarctica. Back then, a trip to Antarctica was not only a great adventure but something you’d never forget. I got to know Stephen on that trip and followed him on social media afterward. I even took an interest in the photographic work he produced on his website. He is a nice guy, and his passion for photography was evident in his work.

As you’ll hear in our video interview, Stephen woke up one morning in spring 2021 in major pain and went to the ER where, after some testing, he was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer. This is a very aggressive cancer, and the diagnosis forced Stephen to reevaluate his life. Many of us would not have done what Stephen decided to do.

After a lot of thought, Stephen decided that he would document his life from that point on and do it a bit differently. He started a project and decided to make a monographic book—The Proximity of Mortality.


Rather than document all he was going through with hospital visits, treatments, and such, he intermixed a few of those images in with beautiful photography that expressed his feelings and thoughts during this time, especially while he still maintained mobility.

This is a book of courage. In reviewing it and interviewing Stephen, I asked myself what would I do if I were in his shoes. How would I handle news like this? I know one thing: If I were Stephen, I would be very happy with what I had left behind so that others could always see my story.  

The Video

I sat down with Stephen on a Zoom call, and below is our half-hour conversation. It’s incredibly moving—I have watched it a few times and  always find myself with a tear in my eye. This is a man of courage, love, and a full life. 

About the Book

A monograph of Stephen L. Starkman’s book, The Proximity of Mortality: A Visual Artist’s Journey Through Cancer, is now available. Stephen was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the spring of 2021. His book photographically explores documentary and metaphorical imagery set beside the shared quotes and poetry of cancer survivors.

About The Contributors

Nicholas J Petrelli, MD, is a surgical oncologist and the Bank of America-endowed medical director of ChristianaCare’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute. He is also the associate director of translational research at Wistar Institute Cancer Center and serves as associate editor of surgical oncology for HemOnc Today.

Aline Smithson, is a visual artist, educator, and editor based in Los Angeles, California. She is widely exhibited and is also the founder of the celebrated photography journal Lenscratch.

Jonathan Blaustein, is an artist, writer, and educator based in Taos, New Mexico. He has exhibited his work widely in galleries and museums in the US and in festivals in Europe. His photographs reside in several important collections, including the Library of Congress, the State of New Mexico, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Book Specifications

96 pages, 45 color photographs
Trim size: 12” wide x 11” tall
$70.00 US Dollars plus shipping
$85.00 Canadian Dollars plus shipping
ISBN 978-1-7386565-0-9
Fall 2022

Final Thoughts

Stephen’s book is available for purchase HERE. It’s an investment you will totally cherish. His website can be found HERE.  You can follow Stephen on Instagram and Facebook.

Over the last few years, our family has lost way too many of its members. Most recently my wife lost her brother to a heart attack. As I get older, I wake up each day with a renewed passion for the life I have, the love that others give me, and I realize just how thankful I am for the life I have lived so far. The Proximity Of Morality has made me apreciate this a lot more.

I don’t know if I could be as brave and courageous as Stephen. He truly accomplished something big. I feel inspired by his story and book, and I feel blessed that I was fortunate enough to have crossed paths with such a wonderful man.  

Consider adding this book to your library. I know you will find your own thoughts and feelings by seeing and reading about Stephen’s journey. Thank you, Stephen.

Some Images From The Book


Kevin Raber
July 2023
Kevin Raber
Indianapolis, IN

Photography is my passion and has been for 50 plus years. My career in photography has allowed me to travel the world, meet some of the most interesting people on the planet and see things I could never have dreamed of. My goal is to share the passion of picture taking through photographs and teaching with as many people as I can, hoping it brings them as much joy and happiness as it has me. I do this through, this site, as well as Rockhopper Workshops, and other projects, as well as teaching as Artist In Residence at the Indianapolis Art Center.

Article Type: News, Reviews, Columns, Videos, MISC

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