“I arrive at The Manor in Nashville. My cousin Jerard greets me and says, “Grandma’s gotten loose.” We find her staring into a poster–one of those flowery landscapes. She reaches up to pull my face closer to hers, gives me a kiss and smiles,
“oh, there you are!”
Jerard and I walk her back to the room where Grandpa Vance is briefly escaping into the television. Before driving them to the IHOP for dinner I carefully buckle up my 86-year old grandmother into the seat just like she buckled me in when I was 6.” –journal entry
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I’ve always known my grandmother, Marybelle Archer, as never missing an accessory, friendly enough to make conversation with complete strangers, and always happy; as evidenced by smiling in her sleep. My mother gave me part of her name.
8 years ago I saw a new quality in Grandma. She was the one who sometimes forgot our names. During a hospital visit for an abnormal heartbeat Grandma said to the nurse, “Me and Vancie…we’re a mind a half.” This simple expression marked for me the disease my family knew had already arrived.
As Grandma grew into dementia she and my grandfather made the move onto the Assisted Living Floor. Then the Ambulatory Floor, the Non-Ambulatory Floor, and last June she left us.
Behind the camera I am a participant in the challenges of a life-long marriage and the role-reversals between my mother and her parents. As an artist these changes are fascinating…as a granddaughter they are awkward and hard to accept. The roles of ‘photographer’ and ‘granddaughter’ go back and forth; as well as ‘caretaker,’ ‘participant,’ and ‘viewer.’
Grandma and I perform. In some images my hand reaches out from behind the camera, or we compare our bodies side-by-side. We collaborate. We do each others’ eyebrows. Our relationship unravels in some areas and grows in others.
Through photographing of my grandmother I relate to the difficulties and the messy choices spouses, children, and grandchildren have to make in coping with degenerative diseases. My family has tackled these changes sometimes clumsily, sometimes gracefully. My challenge is to find the visual spots of dignity and lightness in a natural process perceived by most as painful and morose. Then I see what parts of her besides her name are still a part of me, and hold those parts in these photographs.