Where there's a will to live, there's a way

22:38, Dec 16 2012
David Will
Omaui man David Will with one of 37 photographs to feature in the Beautiful Moments exhibition at Mandeville.

Photographer David Will says he works off emotion. If it makes him pause and think, he will try to capture it. Gwyneth Hyndman reports.

An Omaui man dying of cancer has documented what doctors have said is the last year of his life for his first exhibition this month.

In February, David Will, 49, took his first photograph in 15 years, just hours after being told at Southland Hospital that the cancer he had been diagnosed with a month earlier had spread to his bones.

Will had already booked a flight later that afternoon from Queenstown to Sydney to get a second opinion before the biopsy results came back - he decided to take the flight anyway.

He remembered driving up Devil's Staircase, and looking in his rear-view mirror to see a storm coming in from Cecil Peak.

"I had a challenge ahead of me and I had a camera," he said, describing the impulse to photograph the incoming weather.


"This was a way of recording what was happening."

Ten months later, that picture has become the first in a series of 37 photographs, called Beautiful Moments, which document his trip to Sydney, the return to his Omaui home and four months of chemotherapy.

In August, Will was told the chemo treatment was unsuccessful.

"I thought about the best way to react. I went through a process.

"At the end of it - all emotions aside - it was 'do I hurry up and die or do I hurry up and live?' "

He decided to go to Central America "because it was the place I knew the least about".

Going from a population of about 50 people to Mexico City, a city of 21 million, in September with no plan and no Spanish was a shock to the system, he said.

He made a few stops up the Gulf Coast before he travelled inland, settling briefly in a fishing village on the Pacific Coast. He headed to Belize and explored islands in the Carribean before returning to Mexico City.

He drank mescal, watched surfers, swam with sharks and took photographs the whole way, he said.

Two weeks after coming back, he made plans to hold an exhibition.

Although he had owned a digital imaging company in the past and did website development, Will never imagined he would be doing photography himself.

"I never thought I'd put myself out there as far as demonstrating creativity," he said.

He did not take a photography class or seek out instruction when he began. His approach was simple: "I just work off emotion. If it makes me stop and pause and think, I try to capture it."

Will was upbeat about his health this week - he believed the chemo might have given him more time. He was thankful for getting time to align his life with his values.

"All the cliches about what's important in life - beauty, family, friends - aren't cliches, they're truisms."

Beautiful Moments opened at the Eastern Southland Gallery at Mandeville on December 2 and runs until January 27. For more information on Will, go to davidwillphotography.com.

The Southland Times