ARTIST’S STATEMENT: BECOMING A PHOTOGRAPHER
“When I was 15, an art teacher took my class to the FAMILY OF MAN exhibit at the MOMA. I was overwhelmed at the beauty of the images and convinced by my own responses of the power of photography to help people understand at a different level than when information came to them through words only. In my early 30’s I took a one week workshop on visual sociology from sociologist Howard Becker. Soon after I helped found the International Visual Sociology Association. In those years, I developed a few small projects while I traveled for UN assignments, but I believed I was successful primarily because I was photographing in interesting “exotic” places. I loved working in the darkroom, but my family and job commitments prevented my having a deep immersion in this photography enterprise until my two children completed high school.
A first breast cancer in 1998 led me to reexamine my priorities. I knew I wanted to live in France for at least 5 years and I knew I wanted to photograph seriously about important social issues.. I negotiated an early retirement at the end of a “research leave” in 2001. That summer I took a master class in Oaxaca, Mexico with Mary Ellen Mark which increased my confidence and skills at doing a long term project combining photos with text. I returned a few months later to expand the series and obtained help with interviewing from a Mexican graduate student who joined me for a week there. In the coming months I prepared and modified a draft document about the old age home (Asilo) to which Mary Ellen had assigned me and have yet to finalize it!.
I began photographing seriously at Silverado Senior Living’s dementia care home during the summer of 2001, and began editing seriously that fall, prior to moving to France with my late husband, Professor John Gagnon. Our intended stay of 5 years turned into a stay of 11 wonderful and productive years in Nice, with extensive global travel for pleasure and for my work. In 2004 and 2006 my first photography books, Alive with Alzheimer’s, and the German translation (Alzheimer und Lebensqualitat) were published. A 36 photo exhibit was hosted art the famous Gasteig, and a copy of the exhibit toured Bavaria for 3 years thanks to the Munich Alzheimer’s Society..
From my base in Nice, I continued to explore the components of high quality dementia care and the consequences of such care in terms of nourishing the continuing capacities of people with dementia. Every year from 2006 my local photographic work was exhibited in galleries around Nice, helping me feel an important part of my adopted city. In 2012 I was made an Honorary Professor at Glasgow Caledonian University, and subsequently had appointments at the University of Lancaster, UK and at the University of Nice, France, as well as “artist in residence” appointments at several institutions. I worked extensively with Alzheimer’s Disease International for more than a decade, and with the excellent dementia research and practice program in Nice directed by Professor Philippe Robert. Publication of the volume Love, Loss, and Laughter in 2012 brought my work to the attention of many more people. I have liberally permitted reprinting of images by organizations whose work I find important.
In 2012 John and I returned to the USA due to health challenges. I have now survived two breast cancers and two metastatic cancers and had an extremely rich second professional life, which I never imagined in advance. Since 2013 I have also been collaborating with Melbourne filmmaker Corinne Maunder, founder and president of Fire Films, based in Melbourne, Australia. A first film was made exclusively by Corinne, about my Love, Loss and Laughter exhibit as it toured Australia. In November 2018 we completed our fourth multimedia film, WE ARE FAMILY. All the films combine my still photos and Corinne’s film footage and editing talents. Links to them appear later on this site.
My work on End of Life Care/Palliative Care has also been exciting. That project has been not fully developed as I became deeply engaged in the dementia work. I am now slowly shifting attention and I hope to have a more rounded set of materials by the end of 2019.
Most of my work has been done pro bono as my celebration of the gift of life I have been given. I know my life was enriched greatly by my passion for photographing difficult topics of social importance which connected me to scholars, caregivers, people shaping programs around the world, and many others. I welcome invitations to exhibit my work and to make speaking engagements. My passion to travel has not diminished.
I have been selected to have my work archived at the Bienecke Library at Yale University. It is accessible in the Women in Photography International Archive, Western Americana Collection, and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library/Yale University. See http://womeninphotography.org/Events-Exhibits/YALE-WIPI-ARCHIVE/CathyGREENBLAT/submission.html