When I was in Chicago a few weeks ago I met a woman, Mira Bartok, whose memoir, The Memory Palace, just won the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award. Bartok's book chronicles her life as the child of a mother with schizophrenia, a mental illness that robs its victim not only of a grasp of the present, but also of the past.
Bartok suffers a a brain injury at 40 and takes her reader on the often painful journey of reconstructing the memories from her life. Her book centers on the idea that memory is fluid. Everytime we retrieve a memory it changes, even for those who don't suffer from a memory debilitating illness.
In her exhibit for Fotofest, on view at the Alzheimer's Association through early May, artist Nan Dickson explores how everyday objects can become powerful totems for memory retrieval for those suffering from early onset Alzheimer's disease. Her work as a caretaker for patients with Alzheimer's inspired her to create a moving, thought provoking exhibit. It begs the question, "When precious memories are threatened, how and what will we remember?"
Photographer Anna Snead captured these photos of the exhibit.
Dickson, a photographer based in Temple, used salvaged refrigerators doors to "frame" her poignant photographs of patients living with early onset Alzheimer's disease.
The images in "Cold Storage" are windows into the lives of individuals who were diagnosed with young onset Alzheimer's before the age of 65. A rare and particularly difficult diagnosis, these individuals are caught by the disease at the prime of their lives — professionally and personally. Some still have small children at home.
Dickson captures the artifacts of a life — a pair of cowboy boots, a garden, a piano lesson — and makes memories of them — memories for those that struggle to remember. Memories that once affixed to the refrigerator door become sacred signposts for the journey.
This gentleman was diagnosed at age 53. His favorite things — his horse, the family ranch, his cowboy boots — help him remember.
Many gathered at the Alzheimer's Association to see the exhibit.
The refrigerator door is a place to layer memories. For Alzheimer's patients, it can become a tool in preserving or recovering memories.
Dickson hand made each refrigerator magnet from pill bottle labels and other found objects.
Two favorite hats, a tool to remember
Loved ones become heroes in the fight against Alzheimer's. A woman talks about caring for her beloved husband over the seven year course of his illness.
As Alzheimer's attacks a persons memory, favorite objects become totems — a benchmark of the past into an uncertain future.
The Alzheimer's Association often transforms its office space in Bellaire to host artwork that speaks when words fail.
An initial, a newspaper - artifacts of a life
Each piece is accompanied by the subjects' age at diagnosis. Early onset Alzheimer's strikes when a person is at his or her prime — before the age of 60.
An early-onset Alzheimer's patient enjoys a moment in his garden surrounded by the familiar: A friend, flowers and two affectionate dogs.
"Cold Storage" can be viewed at the Alzheimer's Association in Bellaire, 2242 W. Holcombe Blvd, during regular business hours through May 2. Call 713-314-1353 for details.