When you look at a couple who are still active and living with Dementia, you do not know which of them is has the disease and which of them is the carer. Visually this is interesting because even though someone has dementia, they are still the same person.
I started photographing portraits of couples who are involved with the Alchemy Dementia Chorus in Canberra. My Dad attended the choir before he died of dementia last year. What surprised me about the choir was, that when I walked into the room for the very first time, I did not know who had dementia and who didn’t. This feeling was even more so evident when they were singing.
Visually this struck me as interesting. Everyone has a story, the story hasn’t changed just because someone has dementia, it’s just different.
As part of the project, I have collected their written stories and they are so beautiful and inspirational. This may not be an artistically conceptual exhibition but is uses photographic portraiture in a positive way. It is real, the stories are real, the people are real and I want the viewer to learn about dementia, not be afraid of it especially if someone in their family is living the same journey. You are not alone!
In a world where we value youth and beauty and superficiality, I wanted to show the viewer that there is beauty in wisdom, age, love, caring, being strong in adversity and sharing real stories.
I wish the exhibition and book to reflect hope and positivity, something I feel will help others when diagnosed with dementia. Dementia is a disease and not a normal part of growing old. Being a part of a community is beneficial for anyone, and opening up people with dementia to this project, to singing as part of the choir and to have their portrait in a an artistic space would be highly beneficial to them but to the greater community.
Jane and Doc – Our Stories
Jane: We would like to tell you our story. It is a great story.
We met in 1963 at Highland High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We were 15 years old.
Doc: 0n the first day of school in the assembly hall, 660 new students were asked to applaud the name of their last school. Some students near me noticed that I did not applaud and asked where I was from.
Jane: Doc was asked on more than one occasion what his parents did for a living and his answer had to be, “I can’t tell you.” This was not unusual in New Mexico. Half the kids at Highland High had parents with security clearances and military connections, but not all new students turned up, as Doc did, wearing a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase.
Doc: In eleven years of schooling, this was my sixth school, but my first civilian American school. I was surrounded by sixteen-year-olds who had known each other virtually all their lives. There was one group of four girls who occasionally defied fashion and wore their green Girl Scout uniforms to school. One of them was almost 6 feet tall when I was still only 5 foot 6. With a serious look on her face and black Nana Mouskouri glasses, I fell deeply in lust, knowing that I didn’t stand a chance with such a vision. I went to the office and tried to get the locker next to hers, but even that failed. She was in the Marching Band, I was in the School Choir, and though we moved in the same circles, we never had the opportunity to know each other well.
Jane: To me, Doc was the kid who sat next to Paul, my boyfriend at the time, in French class. He was just another of the military kids who naturally fell into our group of nerds–well read, and fascinated by our youthful President JFK who only had ten weeks to live. Everyone remembers who they were with the day President Kennedy was killed; and for me, Doc was one of those people.
Six weeks after that tragedy, the Beatles came to America, quickly followed by the Rolling Stones. Typically, Doc preferred the Stones to the Beatles, while I preferred…folk music. I thought the Beatles were silly and the Stones were Neanderthals.
Doc: During high school, we would run into each other at the Folk Music Club, the French Club and The Future Teachers of America, the only group that my parents would allow me to join, since it was career oriented. I began a long career of sneaking out of the house to do nefarious things like volunteering at the University of New Mexico’s community radio station. I lied about my age and found myself playing English folk bands once a week from 11 PM ’til 1 AM, bands that no American west of New York City had even heard of.
Jane: But I was listening.That was where I first heard of Steeleye Span, played by a boy who never gave his name on air. Whenever I saw Doc, I was glad that the anxious boy with the crew cut was now over six feet tall, had a sculpted beatnik beard and had found his niche in being a hippie. He seemed comfortable with political groups like Students for a Democratic Society, the SDS.
Doc: SDS split in two in 1968,my choice being the Weather Underground.I had to be cautious, though: when I started University I had just one goal in mind — Australia. The politics and value systems of my father’s country horrified me from day one, and since I was accustomed to moving and more moving, going even
“Further West, Young Man” seemed perfectly natural 3⁄4 especially after the horrors of May, 1970, when Nixon revealed Kissinger’s Secret Plan to end the war: triple it.
Jane: On May Day, 1970, the SDS declared a student strike to protest the invasion of Laos and Cambodia. Four days later, The National Guard killed four students at Kent State University in Ohio. At UNM, someone put our KUNM radio station on the PA system of the Student Union Building without permission, broadcasting the shocking news. That nameless someone was Doc. Four days later, it was our turn in New Mexico. The speakers in the student union building came on again. I was there, and I heard, “Time to make your choice, the National Guard is on its way. Are you going to leave? Or are you going to stay?”
Doc: I arrived from my job as a student teacher just as the bloodletting stopped. Guardsmen had been stabbing and beating students, and were preventing ambulances from leaving by holding bayonets against the tires. One sergeant was trying to get his “weekend warriors” into some order. Because I was wearing a tie and sports coat, and looked official, I was able to walk right through a platoon of fifty Guardsmen and join my Comrades who were rallying with more discipline than the farm-boy amateurs. We began to disperse as soon as the Guardsmen had been safely put back into their four trucks, leaving trails of student blood across the Main Concourse.
Jane: On Monday morning,when we arrived forclass,we were shocked to see the trails of blood were still there. Someone had painted acrylic sealer over them. They couldn’t just be washed away and forgotten. I thought it was the most brilliant piece of applied politics I had ever seen. I didn’t know who had done it, but that person instantly became a counter-culture hero to me.
Doc: Now the gloves were off. I let my beard grow back, and I took part in some slightly illegal activities. The result was the moving up of my timetable for my departure for Australia. And, sadly, I lost track of the girl with the Nana Mouskouri
glasses for forty-one years. Two years ago, a mutual friend from high school suggested that we friend each other on Facebook.
Jane: We began to correspond online. It wasn’t long before we realized we had to hear from each other every day. I found Doc’s writing charming, his wit enchanting, and his politics admirable. Early in our exchanges, I had asked Doc what we had achieved with the counterculture revolution of the sixties. His thoughtful response was comforting and inspiring. As we reminisced about the events of May 1970, I mentioned my hero of the acrylic sealer. It was Doc.
Doc: And I found her politics, spirituality and acceptance of my Native American ancestry more attractive even than my memory of that girl in a green uniform. A few people in Colorado think, “Jane ran off with some guy she met on the Internet.”
BOTH: But we feel that after fifty years, we are coming Home together.