Learning from the Best

One of the first and most satisfying things I did when returning to the States this past summer was go to a bookstore.  Books!  In English!  As far as the eye could see! After a year in Japan, it was a welcome sight for a nerd like me. I bought and read a pile of books including Photographs Not Taken, a compilation of essays written by photographers about photographs they didn’t or couldn’t take. KayLynn Deveney is one of the contributors to this book, and after reading her account of missing an opportunity to photograph an elderly man in Northern Ireland, I flipped to the back to read her bio.  KayLynn Deveney: a lecturer in photography at the University of Ulster.  I would be learning from her!

The coincidences continued as I sat in class early in the semester and heard KayLynn speak about her work. Her master’s work had focused on an elderly couple, Edith and Len,  who she had photographed in an elder-care home:

The reason I chose the University of Ulster was because of another professor’s work researching the use of pictures in forming memory narratives among Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.  Little did I know that I would be learning from a photographer with passions so akin to my own. KayLynn’s most recent project is a collaborative work with an elderly man, The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings, in which, Hastings writes captions in response to the photographs:

Last month, another photographer with an interest in aging visited my class. Maja Daniels, a Swedish photographer based in London, is also interested in blending disciplines; she has training in both photography and sociology, and is an inspiration to me, since I want to make similar connections, in my case between photography and psychology. Daniels showed us her incredibly moving work, Into Oblivion, shot in a dementia ward in France:

The work includes many images of this door, with residents waiting hopelessly in front of it. “The locked door becomes the centre of attention for the elders who question the obstruction and attempt to force it open,” Daniels writes. “The daily struggle with the door, damaged due to repeated attempts to pick the lock, can last for hours.” She hopes to motivate people to think about current care policies for the elderly with this work.

I was also taken by her stunningly beautiful documentary work on a pair of elderly twins in France. Monette and Mady is an ongoing project on the activities and lives of these two women:

In addition to being visually mesmerizing, these photographs serve, Daniels says, as an “alternative take on the complex issues that accompany the notion of ‘aging’ today.”

Meeting and learning from two talented women like KayLynn and Daniels, seems an act of fate. Now it is just a matter of putting into practice the myriad of things I learned from Daniels’s visit and continue to learn from KayLynn every week.

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