Rite of Cancer by Tim O’Leary


In June 2003, Tim O’Leary was diagnosed with a large abdominal tumour*. Rite of Cancer tells the story of his emotional and intellectual journey from January’03 to January’04, through illness, surgery and recovery, to the eve of the first scan six months after the operation. It addresses a search for energy to transcend the inevitable turmoil and, as with any work of art, tries to make sense of the world anew: ‘a life unexamined is a life not worth living’ (Socrates).

The images use the spiritual connection between man and nature to convey differing states of mind. They are mainly landscapes, but, to reinforce the metaphor, details are also used in the spirit of what Jonathan Miller calls ‘momentarily moving the incidental centre-stage’.

The photographs and poems were originally made in separate sequences, only being brought together for an exhibition in Clerkenwell, London, in May 2004, then paired as double-page spreads for a CD published in the Journal of Holistic Healthcare, Volume 3, Number 2, 2006. In December 2012 Rite of Cancer was recommissioned by Tim Cockroft of N+1 Singer and the exhibition has been recreated specifically for the space available in the boardroom at Bartholomew Lane, EC2.

Tim O’Leary is a photographer and poet. His photographs have been published in many media worldwide and exhibited in Europe and the USA. In the last two years his poetry has been shortlisted for prizes at festivals in Britain, Ireland and Italy.

April 2013

* The operation note read ‘Laparotomy and resection of massive leiomyosarcoma arising from the greater curve of the stomach, with segmental gastrectomy, splenectomy and distal pancreatectomy’.