On as­sign­ment

Mark Sey­mour shares his mov­ing im­ages of his fa­ther’s strug­gle with Alzheimer’s

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Dad had al­ways played the har­mon­ica, and when he was handed it we could still see glimpses of him, even when he was fad­ing in other re­spects

My im­ages of my dad, Ron­nie, were taken over the last five years of his life, fol­low­ing a di­ag­no­sis of Alzheimer’s dis­ease. The se­ries [Liv­ing with Alzheimer’s: A Har­mon­ica for Ron­nie, which was ex­hib­ited at Andipa gallery in Lon­don] cov­ers Dad at home, his treat­ment at the lo­cal hos­pi­tal, and be­ing cared for in a care home, right up un­til he passed away in March 2015. It cel­e­brates his life as much as it recog­nises the pain and heartache of his ill­ness.

I’ve al­ways taken pic­tures of my par­ents and my fam­ily are used to see­ing me with a cam­era, but Iupped it when we saw what was hap­pen­ing. I didn’t set out to even show them to any­one, but I think the ex­hi­bi­tion hap­pened be­cause of the power of the im­ages. They pro­vide a real glimpse into how some­one deals with de­men­tia and how the fam­ily cope. They dif­fer from char­ity ad­verts that fea­ture an ac­tor or model to try to raise aware­ness.

From an emo­tional point of view, I found the pho­to­graphs quite easy to take. I vis­ited Dad reg­u­larly, and it gave me some­thing to do while sit­ting there for hours. When I got home and started look­ing through the im­ages and con­vert­ing them into black and white, that’s when the tears came.

I was shoot­ing three times a week some­times, and al­though my fi­nal se­lec­tion only in­cluded 20 im­ages, I’ve got hun­dreds of oth­ers. Some of the im­ages that I didn’t choose were ei­ther too personal, or I felt that they were so evoca­tive they wouldn’t all work to­gether as one panel. Mu­sic ther­apy When I shot A Har­mon­ica for Ron­nie [main shot, op­po­site] I had no idea it would be­come such a key im­age, but as Dad’s ill­ness pro­gressed it be­came a nat­u­ral fo­cus. It’s a lovely por­trait, and Dad had al­ways played the har­mon­ica. When he was handed it we could still see glimpses of him, even when he was fad­ing in other re­spects. I also learnt that mu­sic ther­apy can help to rekin­dle lost mem­o­ries for peo­ple with de­men­tia.

I’m a Nikon UK am­bas­sador, and mainly use the D4, but in the hos­pi­tal I used a Nikon 1 V1, as I wasn’t al­lowed to take a big D-SLR in with me. I was of­ten shoot­ing in very low light, so a lot of the pho­tos had to be taken at high ISOs, but thank­fully the D4 copes re­ally well with this. I rarely use flash any­way, but it wouldn’t have worked here.

I use wide-an­gle primes – 28mm and 35mm – to en­able me to get close-up, personal im­ages that tell a story nat­u­rally and can­didly. Get­ting in the right po­si­tion is key for doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy – my feet are my zoom. On the street, pho­tog­ra­phers can get ner­vous about be­ing so close, but with Mum and Dad it was to­tally nat­u­ral to be sit­ting along­side them.

Black-and-white im­agery is my pre­ferred style, which suited this sub­ject per­fectly. There are lots of big, bright el­e­ments and back­grounds in a hos­pi­tal en­vi­ron­ment, and mono­chrome nat­u­rally avoids these un­wanted dis­trac­tions. I pro­cessed the im­ages us­ing Sil­ver Efex Pro.

The ex­hi­bi­tion was a great suc­cess and it was won­der­ful to have the sup­port of the Alzheimer’s So­ci­ety. I’ve had such in­cred­i­ble feed­back, and I’m hop­ing to cre­ate a trav­el­ling ver­sion of the ex­hi­bi­tion with a book. I think the im­ages are so pow­er­ful be­cause they weren’t shot with a goal in mind, but sim­ply shot from the heart. See the whole se­ries at www. mark­sey­mour­pho­tog­ra­phy.co.uk and learn about Mark’s street pho­tog­ra­phy and train­ing at www.shoot­thestreet.co.uk

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