• On the face of it 27 July 2017 | View comments

  • 27th July 2017 | By David Jolley

    Wednesday took me to Worcester – to the Association of Dementia Studies which Professor Dawn Brooker has created, impressively and productively, from scratch in the matter of a few years. The centre has a pretty broad approach to studies and practical applications of findings, but has a particular interest in the arts and dementia. With Nottingham University they have a project to train PhD students in the relationship between art and dementia: www.worcester.ac.uk/discover/tandem-phd-studentship.html

    As part of this Dawn has arranged for Cathy Greenblatt to spend time with the PhD students, sharing her exquisite skills in photography as a means of investigating and evidencing quality of life which is possible for people with dementia and their families and other carers www.cathygreenblat.com/table_of_contents.cfm

    I was honoured that Cathy gave the fifth David Jolley lecture that Wednesday afternoon. She is an extraordinary individual who has followed a successful career as an academic social scientist, with a second career of her own design. Fascinated by photography from an early age, she resolved to turn a hobby into a passion in ‘retirement’.

    She shared with us the strange turn of events which has led her to devote much of her work to the study of two topics she originally swore to avoid: these are dementia and dying. Like many people she had felt they were too hard, too difficult to address. She has found close acquaintance with both to bring about a different understanding for her – and through her eyes to encourage a clearer insight and acceptance for others. She has travelled the world to meet the dying and those living with dementia in many places and many cultures.

    Her beautiful photographs are displayed in Power Point and in printed publications. They are the product of painstaking study and enquiry as she gets to know the people, their stories and the means by which communication can be achieved and pleasures rediscovered.

    So behind every photograph there is a story – very often of a life which had been given up:

    ‘She is very demented now – There is nothing to be done but wait for death as a blessed relief’.

    But risking something more – an outing – a dance – music is everywhere – play with clay, colours, sand and flour. See the expressions of wonder, horror, amusement and mischief.

    A very senior and respected colleague assured me that very same week: ‘There is no a jot of evidence that music as therapy works.’

    Well we know it does – and Cathy’s photographs give the lie to such nihilism.

    ‘And in her smile I see something more beautiful than the universe’

    Beth Revis

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