‘Fading’ by Yang Zhou

Photobook documents families’ time together through dementia; the process brings caregivers consolation
‘Fading’ by Yang Zhou

What is Fading and how did it come to be? 

Fading is a photobook about my grandma’s Alzheimer’s disease and how we cope with the disease as a family. 

I used photography to record the last three years of my grandmother, Wang Xuhua’s, life. In her presence, I was always anxious. I had to bring a camera each time I visited her, even though I did not necessarily press the shutter each time. After Grandma’s passing in 2013, I spent three years editing the images. I felt that a photobook would be the best way to remember her.

My grandma used to work as a pattern designer for the fabric factories in Shanghai. In the editing process, I looked through her designs and old photo albums of the family. Through the juxtaposition of my photos and her designs and old photos, I tried to reconcile the reality of her dementia and her memory, for I always believed that the memory was not lost, only misplaced in her mind.

What initially inspired you to grapple with dementia? 

The work was inspired by my own experience living with my grandma and witnessing her changes due to Alzheimer’s disease. I started to photograph her as a way to make sense of the disease. The camera made me feel that I was in control of the situation, and also became a shield, protecting me from the powerlessness I felt as the family member of a dementia patient.  

I had this book published and the reason for that is, even though this was a personal story, there are a rising number of dementia patients in China. I hoped that my story could help in raising awareness of this disease and dispel discrimination. Also, I believe that my story could give consolation to people with similar experiences.

How has working on dementia-related art changed you?

This was practically my first major project, after graduating with an MA in photojournalism from the University of Westminster. This project made me realize that meaningful work could be made close to home. In the meantime, I started to think about the themes of memory, which would become a long-term interest in my work, though afterward, I started to make photographic works on collective memory and cultural heritage, while this one was all about personal memory.

How has Fading been received? 

Fading was first circulated in the photography world, receiving two major photography national awards in China. In 2018, I published the photobook by crowdfunding, which was a way for it to reach a broader audience. In the process, more than 400 people pre-ordered my book, and the 1000 copies I printed have almost been sold out till now. 

I received much feedback from people with similar experiences, ie, family members of dementia patients. They shared their story with me and told me that my book inspired them to make records for their family. I have also collaborated with NGOs in Shanghai to conduct photography workshops that provide a community space for caregivers of family members who have dementia. Trying my photographic methods, these people found a way to express their feelings, and found support and consolation with each other. 

This work is dedicated to: My mother, who is the main caregiver for my grandma.

Find more from Yang Zhou on Instagram.

What is a Spotlight?

The Dementia Arts Spotlight promotes visual and performing artists who are grappling with dementia through original work or innovative arts programs. The Spotlight—in a Q&A format where artists describe the details and significance of their work or program—connects each artist to the Dementia Spring community. Find examples of prior Dementia Arts Spotlights here. Know of an artist whose work should be Spotlighted? Send them this link!

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