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Cathy Greenblat

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approaches to dementia care, arts and theatre, care services and care homes, research
Cathy Greenblat session

This month, Professor Cathy Greenblat has been visiting the TAnDem Arts and Dementia Doctoral Training Centre. Cathy, a former Professor of Sociology, has engaged in photographic projects around aging, dementia and end of life care.  Her work has become well known with people working in the dementia field. Her published work “Love, Loss and Laughter: Seeing Alzheimer’s Differently” has been used to highlight loving care and aims to reduce the fear and stigma that surrounds dementia.

Cathy’s work is perceived as aesthetic and instructive, challenging stereotypical views of people with dementia.  Rather than stock photographs of ‘wrinkly hands’, her work focuses on peoples’ remaining skills and abilities, that are all too often underestimated.  The aim of Cathy’s visit was to document some of the work that the TAnDem students have been involved in, providing a photographic legacy for the students and the arts communities that we have been working with.  This week Cathy visited Nottingham to photograph two creative arts sessions the TAnDem students have been involved in.

The “Press Here” digital project was the focus of Monday morning’s creative session.  Artist Graham Elstone conducted a workshop at Radford Day Centre with participants and volunteers as part of the Imagine Arts programme.  Imagine is a three year programme funded by the Arts Council and the Baring Foundation arts and older people in care fund.  This strand of work explores how digital arts can become accessible for older people through experimentation with the arts.  It aims to engage older people with new technologies and challenge stereotypes that digital arts are not exclusively for younger people.

‘Love’ was the theme of the session; participants were asked to brainstorm things they loved guided by their senses.  Through discussions some common themes became apparent: the smell of coffee in the morning, listening to music, the sand between your toes, the smell and sounds of new born babies.  Participants then sketched their favourite items and once happy with the design cut it out to form a silhouette; whilst Cathy moved around the room watching the artists at work.

The afternoon saw us travel to a care home in Beeston.  Here, Cathy was given a tour of the facility and the opportunity to photograph a music session facilitated by care home personnel.  A group of nine residents and accompanying visitors were enticed into singing favourite tunes whilst accompanying along on tambourines and maracas.  Music is known to be a powerful medium, particularly for those living with dementia.  Despite the heat which accompanied the glorious afternoon sun, residents’ eyes lit up, connections were formed and we all had smiles on our faces.

Throughout both sessions, I felt that I was looking through a new ‘lens’.  What would I look for if I was photographing this group? Does that accurately portray what is happening?  To me, the most interesting moments were perhaps not activities themselves, but the interactions between the people present in the group.  A member of staff playing piano whilst a resident rests her hands on his shoulder and sings with him.  Residents encouraging each other to participate in activities. Laughter, playfulness, joy.

As students researching the arts and dementia, we are often grappling with how we measure the ‘in the moment’ responses to creative arts experiences.  Cathy’s visit has left me with some questions to ponder: how can the camera be added to the researcher ‘tool-kit’?  How authentic would this ‘visual evidence’ be?  In what way can we use photographs to disseminate our research?  After all, the saying is “a picture speaks a thousand words”. 

You can find out more about Cathy’s work on her website: http://www.cathygreenblat.com/

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