Signs Of Life

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PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT BY DEREK CLARK

I held my sister up as she waited for her final pill of the day, the eighteenth. We were alone and she looked at me and shook her head. I asked her why she was shaking her head and her reply was “What kind of life is this?”. 
This was the first time she sounded like she'd had enough and I struggled to muster an argument for the defence. But before I found one she said: “I suppose it's a life”. I nodded my head, unable to speak. But this time was not because I didn’t have an answer, but because emotion hit me in the back of the throat without warning. Emotion that chokes your words and throws out awkward silence for all present to endure.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was chatting to Steve and his wife Amanda about alternative treatments that he and my sister could/should try. We were at Photo Talks, which Steve ran with Phil Paine in St Albans. I had flown down and had the honour of being the final speaker on the final night. Photo Talks had been a great success, but due to Steve’s cancer diagnosis and Phil’s imminent move to Wales, it was coming to an end.

Shortly after that, we invited Steve to be a guest writer/photographer on our June 2017 issue. Steve’s essay was called ‘I Live To See Another Day’ and as it turns out, was published one year before his death. Steve was already writing his personal blog and telling his very private story in a very public way. He showed great bravery and courage in that blog and It’s well worth sitting down with a coffee and reading Steve’s story in his own words. 
My heart sank when I read the following words in his post titled ‘Playing To The Gallery’.

“My liver is failing. This is the end game, and this will be my last post. Nobody can quite believe it, but I know I have days not weeks.”

That indeed was Steve’s final post, but his work will live on for many years, which thankfully we will be able to consume soon. Neale James is in the final stage of editing a documentary film about Steve which will be coming really soon. Books of Steve's work are already in the pipeline too.

Cancer is the worst of diseases, but it brings out the best in people. I see it all around me right now. My parents and my brother in law rise to new heights each day with their compassion, strength, love and unwavering commitment. Falling apart will have to wait for another day because today is about care.

Human kindness is overflowing,
but I think it’s going to rain today
— Randy Newman

P.s.
I’m not sure this set of pictures fits with the text. My idea, as the title says, was to show signs of life without actually having any people in the pictures. I also wanted to take a walk in the streets with my camera, as Steve did in his final months and made sure to include a few bikes as Steve was a keen cyclist.

Derek Clark

Documentary photographer based in Scotland, UK. Winner of UK professional Photographer of the Year 2012 in the News category and member of The Kage Collective.