"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Friday, October 10, 2014

village shalom

A few years ago I was asked to photograph some of the residents at Village Shalom, an assisted and independent living place not far from where I live. The photos ended up becoming an exhibition in the beautiful gallery there; later they were assembled into a permanent installation running the length of one of the hallways at the facility.

I was shooting film back then - using my Hasselblad. It was a great project. Getting to know these folks was inspiring and rewarding. Several of the residents were in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s. When they finally engaged with me and looked squarely into my camera, I was moved by their honesty and directness, fleeting as it might have been. All of the people I photographed were delightful.

Since the images are still on display at Village Shalom, I often receive comments from people who've been there to visit a friend or relative. Every now and then, I get a call from someone who wants to purchase a print of their father, grandmother, etc.

I got such a call last week. While going through the files, I decided to share some of them here on the blog. (I've featured them here before, but it was many years ago.) 

The following is the artist statement I wrote to accompany the installation:

“I came away from these portrait sessions with more than rolls of exposed film. Inspirational stories filled my head, words of wisdom rang in my ears, gifts of kindness filled my heart. Warmth, strength, humor, grace and dignity defined each and every person I encountered during my photographic journey at Village Shalom.

When I was about ten years old and a girl scout, I went with my troop to a nursing home. Beforehand, we carefully and lovingly prepared potted flowers to take to the men and women who lived there. Upon our arrival, we were each paired up with one of the residents. My partner had thick white hair and didn’t have much to say. As soon as I handed her the pot of begonias, my face beaming with pride, she put her fingers in the dirt, and then, to my horror and dismay, began to eat it.

It was a long time before I felt comfortable returning to any sort of assisted living facility.

I have never been to one as life affirming and uplifting as Village Shalom. Thanks to each of you who agreed to sit for a portrait. I’m glad you were able to squeeze me in between work, water aerobics, lunch dates, lectures, shopping trips and Tai chi. Mostly, though, I am grateful that you gave me back those begonias – bright, beautiful and in full bloom.”


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