Now that second year is finished, along with From The Bottom Up, it’s time to start thinking seriously about my photography-based dissertation. As a professional carer, I am constantly inspired by the healthcare sector and am beginning to embrace it as a point of creative innovation; consequentially, my final-year project aims to explore the invisibility and vulnerability of ageing populations, specifically in East Sussex. This project nicely coincides with the 70th anniversary of the struggling National Health Service, a time of celebration but also mourning. The aim of this post is to make sense of my initial thoughts and ideas, drawing upon the works of Geoffrey Batchen to help illustrate the substance and potential of such a project.
Since engaging with voluntary work for Age UK in November, I have become fascinated with what’s been dubbed the ‘loneliness crisis’ amongst elderly people in the United Kingdom. This interest has only been exacerbated by becoming a carer and seeing the plight of these populations on a day-to-day basis. Photographs don many of my clients’ walls, and they often take pride in narrativising each one as I carry out my work. This is always heart-warming – I often wonder whether their portraits will live on in their descendants’ homes in quite the same way.
Geoffrey Batchen’s Suspending Time provides an entry point into thinking about the role of the photograph in preserving something where memory is concerned. Many of the people are work with are living with debilitating illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, Motor Neurone Disease, liver failure, and more. As I watch the people I care for wither away, I am constantly reminded of life’s fragility. I couldn’t help but smile in agreement when Batchen writes:
‘…photographers take snapshots to allay their own fears about forgetting and being forgotten’
Batchen, 2010: 126
In regards to the project itself, I have a lot to think about and my next step is to start taking photographs and experimenting, as well as to narrow down my focus. One of the works at the UoB Degree Show got me thinking about this, exhibiting an exploration of memory – this work caught my attention in its recreation of a ‘family wall’ with the record player encouraging a nostalgic affect. Although, dare I say, a bit cliche with the wilted flowers, I found this work one of the more modest works in the exhibition – a lot of it seemed rather individualist and self-congratulatory. I also thought about how many explorations of one’s own family I’ve seen, particularly one’s grandparents, in similar ways. There is a notable lack of insight from the perspectives of carers, paid or unpaid, those who are expected to love and care unconditionally and tirelessly yet often receive little in return. In his Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression, developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert writes:
‘There are very few descriptions of the tribulations suffered by carers’
Wolpert, 2006: 10
I will continue to write and reflect throughout the coming year. I will also be the official photographer for the Alzheimer’s Society 1940s event in January which we be beneficial to my project, practice, and for my own personal development. My hours are quite demanding so I will write where I can – perhaps the non-existence of a work-life balance in these sectors is precisely why the voices of those within them go so often unheard.
Batchen, G. 2010. Suspending Time. Japan: Izu Photo Museum.
Wolpert, L. 2006. Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression. London: Faber & Faber Ltd.