TEMPUS FUGIT (2014 – 2019)
After she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Marguerite Albert, my grandmother’s lucidity slipped away over the years.
I stood by helplessly watching this gentle woman’s mind fade, but found solace in photography during those hazy times.
In the beginning, I photographed her purely for artistic reasons. It wasn’t until 2014 that it became a way to reflect on her illness. I lived far away, in Paris, so I did not see her as often as I would have liked. I tried to make up for lost time when I did visit. ‘Make up for lost time’ – what a strange turn of phrase! As if it were possible to regain what has been lost, for her to remember me when I knew she wouldn’t.
In late 2019, I became a father. My life changed in ways that made me even more determined to find a way to capture memories. I cannot imagine forgetting my own daughter. And so my art is a way to honour my grandmother, to give her back the voice that she has lost, and to portray her, or what of her still endures, as she is now.
We do not speak the name of her illness. We dance around mentioning the evil thing eating away at her memory. The term ‘A.’s disease’, borrowed from French novelist Olivia Rosenthal’s book We’re Not Here to Disappear, is an apt description of the invisible, unimaginable, unspeakable enemy acknowledged only when it is too late.
Time marches on in the house where I spent much of my childhood. Gone are the lively family stories she would recount to us, and all that remains are photos gathering dust. She keeps her loved ones in her heart through the memories that have been imprinted in her over the years. Time has slowed or perhaps even stopped for her, and the house that was once a reflection of her is now merely an echo of the disease that is stealing her memory.
My grandparents never travelled much, but when they were in their sixties, they bought a camper van and drove around France, Italy, Spain, and Morocco. Grandmother Maggy kept a diary on those expeditions, in which her tone was peppy and occasionally poetic. Her gentle nature shone through in her writing. Her script remained deliberate and graceful up until 2010, when her memory began to fade, stories became mixed up in her mind, and her handwriting deteriorated.
‘… Four in the afternoon. Finally got some rest. Maggy is doing well. Today was a happy one for her.’
This is the last line in her diary, this time written by my grandfather in 2015. He didn’t know it then, but his words were a portent of the years to come. Marguerite is indeed cheerful most of the time, though noticeably absent. Everything – time, people, situations – is a blur to her. She is losing her senses, yet life carries on and my grandfather remains strong and by her side.
That is what I want to capture. The fact that even now, life goes on. I want to tell her one last time that it is all right if she cannot remember. Because we do.