Capturing Alzheimer's Through the Camera Lens
Last updated: October 2023
Alzheimer's is a disease that progresses with time. We had the opportunity to speak with Ashley, a talented photographer, on her experience with her dad's Alzheimer's disease and capturing precious moments through her camera lens.
My dad and my son
What made you embark on this project?
A few years ago, a photographer and I were speaking at a conference. He had done a personal project documenting his life after he lost his mother, and dared us each to think of something that would resonate with us. I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew something with time and my dad.
As time went on, and I let it sit on my heart through a global pandemic, a cancer diagnosis of my own, having my first child and more, I knew it was time to revisit the idea. And I did, but knowing that I wanted to keep it simple. Black and white portraits.
My dad and my son. My parents and my son. So that even if my dad fades, I'll have a moment in time captured of him and my son - my son loving and remembering him just as he was.
We often refer to Alzheimer's as a disease that affects the entire family. Can you describe from your perspective the love they share?
Absolutely, it affects everyone. But getting to see my dad and son interact is something I wished for, for many years. This diagnosis has always been back of mind for all of us, and I recall sitting in a restaurant years ago tearing up saying I wanted to have a child sooner than later so my dad could meet him.
While things progress, it is so wonderful that they can still do stuff together and share basic tasks together.
"Even when your memory fails you, a photograph does not." This is straight from the heart. And is becoming a huge part of how I photograph now - what I want my clients to remember when being photographed. Photographs live long past people, and they can become such a treasure.
What story do you hope the photos will tell to your son when he is older?
That he was and is deeply loved by his (great) grandparents. That they wish they could hold him longer, squeeze him together, play with him more. That he brought them pure joy, even in moments of deep sorrow.
When a loved one is living with Alzheimer's, it is not unusual to catch glimpses or moments of clarity, and it feels like you do that in these photos. Can you talk to us about what this session was like for you behind the lens?
Absolutely. My son definitely brings out the best in my dad. He enjoys playing with him, cuddling him and more. I think a blank studio helped to keep the distractions down - minus a basketball which at the time was my son's favorite toy. A moment in time where the only task was to play.
How does your son refer to your dad? Is he grandpa, pop pop, paw paw? Can you describe what their relationship is like?
He refers to him as "baba" which is what I called him when I was younger. Backstory - I was actually adopted by my grandparents, so they were originally my "gramma and baba" before becoming "Mom and Dad" when I was in second grade. We have adopted the same terms I used to use.
What do you hope others will take away from this project?
To be honest, this was a personal project. Just for me. But as I have shared publicly within my photography brand, this is a huge part of why I photograph love and families - to remember the little glimpses of who people were in a specific photo - so that even if your memory fails you, the photograph will not.
Thank you, Ashley!
Thank you Ashley for opening up about her experience with Alzheimer's and shedding light on the humanity behind the disease.
You can check out Ashley's portfolio, and the photos she spoke to in her interview here.
Have you or your loved one been diagnosed with Mild cognitive impairment?