When given our Senior Thesis Project I had no idea where to begin. Not one clue. Our professor gave us the free will to do whatever interested us. My gears started rolling.
“I like postcards and awkward family photos.”
“I like collecting stranger’s family photos”
“I love diving into the memories within them.”
But then I started thinking…why haven’t I dived into my own family’s history? Was it from fear of learning secrets I didn’t want to know? I don’t think so… Was it that I didn’t think we were interesting enough? No..definitely not… Was I trying to make up memories in other people’s memories because I was too afraid to face my own? Maybe..
It can be scary facing the reality of your own situation. My grandpa passed away when I was in middle school. I always loved his soul. He was an angry man when my mom was growing up but as time passed and his body weakened he became more and more loving and gentle. His quirks always had me laughing. I can remember one specifically, the way he chewed. He has a strong jaw, big lips, and no teeth. Poor pop had the funniest way of chewing. On his 90th birthday, I remember singing Happy Birthday to him with my family and watching him blow out the candles. He couldn’t get them all so he tried and tried again, each time spit was flying. I didn’t have cake that year, but I had a good laugh and now a special memory.
My grandma was always an active one. Always cooking, always gardening, always bringing me to the Dollar Store for a treat. She’s a religious one to say the least. Always poking criticisms at me for wearing shorts, cutting my hair, and being too dolled up. But I’ve always loved her. After Pop passed away, she slowed down. She slowly stopped cooking every Sunday, slowly began taking more naps, and stopped sleeping in her room. The happy memories I had were at a cease. She started repeating herself and began to loose track of who was who. One day I’m Madison, my cousin. The next day, I’m Lynette, my mom. It got hard to visit her. I felt like I had already lost her.
I chose to document my grandma’s dementia for my senior thesis because I knew that this could be the only documentation of her my family would own. I’m the only photographer in the family so I felt like I needed to do this for them. I met with my grandma a few days to video her interactions with specific images chosen from her family album, helping her temporarily piece together forgotten memories. I printed the final collages on clear plastic and strung them up to represent failing memories, almost like dreams. Below are the pieces I created to showcase at the exhibition:
In addition to these pieces, I shot and edited a video that was projected within my display. View the video here: In Memorium. Here is an excerpt I wrote to verbalize my feelings throughout the process. This was spread throughout a book that was also on display:
It was one of the most emotionally challenging, eye-opening projects I’ve ever done. It challenged me to face fears and realities I pushed aside. It’s not any easier but my love for her has grown more than I can imagine. My patience for her disease is blossoming as well. She is now in a nursing home being taken care of by wonderful nurses. It was too hard on my family to constantly watch over her. My heart breaks every time I think about her or see her, but she is family and you love family through everything.