Artist Portrait: Scotty Perry
“When Artists Become Caregivers”
Scotty Perry is a photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Louisville, KY. and the author of HERE, his photographic journey as a dementia caregiver for his Mamaw and Papaw in Louisville, Ky. in 2018. When his uncle called and told him that caring for Mamaw was beyond what he and her husband could do, Scotty dropped everything and almost instantaneously became their full time caregivers.
While he didn’t go with the intention of finding a story, a photojournalist by nature, Perry couldn’t leave without his camera. Through his time with Mamaw and Papaw, what Perry found was a story, a story that others could relate to. After Mamaw passed away, Perry continued on as a caregiver for Papaw. He was there as Papaw grieved in his own way, despite his dementia. Perry shared that he imagined Papaw envisioning an earlier time; “the 1950s, colorful, desirable cars driving by, kids playing in the yards, folks mowing the lawns”. This envisioned imagery, full of life paints a stark contrast to the dark images of HERE.
Perry’s photography style is one that is genuine, natural, unposed and “capturing what is already beautiful and already there; already existing”. This came natural to the caregiving role, nothing was forced. It allowed him to document the day’s routine and the emotional experience. For Perry, documenting through photography was an outlet for grieving.
While Perry and Papaw’s relationship dynamic had shifted to Perry being the caregiver, Perry continued to learn from Papaw. Perry shared that Papaw was always focused on time and there were calendars all over the home. On a day when the calendar just wasn’t what Papaw needed, Perry went out to purchase a new one. When he brought it home, Papaw scratched out the word “HERE”. In Perry’s own words he describes;
“I get emotional thinking about it, pivotal moment for me in that situation and in my own life, we’re always just right here, it’s where we’re at. I got it tattooed on my arm now in his handwriting so I can always have it, always see it.”
Perry found solace in sharing his experience as caregiver through his photography. He found an opportunity to cope, grieve, learn and grow. For others, his project opened up doors for others to connect. His reach continues to grow and pull others in. “When artists become caregivers”, they are given an opportunity to use their medium as a way to express emotions through their caregiving journey. Portraying dementia and caregiving in the arts not only can act as a way for the art to move through their grief, but also build a community amongst others and let others know they’re not alone.