Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered From Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome depicts the human condition when altered by disease, from an intimate perspective. The work presents my family’s personal story, but also serves as a universal reminder of what it means to be human. Throughout my life, my work has explored identity, persona, and the humanity of all people. This body of work is no exception.
I began my collaboration with my father in late 2013 when he started to reveal stronger external manifestations of Parkinson’s. Originally, I wanted to log my family history and create a story about my father’s journey, having come from Egypt to build a successful life in a new country ... but it became something else entirely: a work about his survival. Serving as one of his primary caregivers, as well as his documentarian, I witnessed his daily struggles firsthand. Together we agreed to make this body of work for our immediate family to understand his disintegration, and to bring us closer together during a time when illness was causing separation and alienation by pulling us worlds apart. We also recognized the value this work could have for our extended family and for the community at large.
My father’s struggle was his own, our own ... but it is also a universal story filled with love, compassion, strength, weakness, pain and grief, as well as a heartfelt desire to understand disease, mental illness, and loss of self. These images explore the inherent difficulty in maintaining a grasp on reality within the constraints of a deteriorating mind and body. It was heart wrenching to watch and photograph the progression of my father’s illnesses, but we were strongly compelled to create this body of work, knowing that we could learn from it, it could benefit others and that we were not the first, the last, or alone in the experience. My father was deeply proud of this work, as am I. We collaborated for just over four years until his death.
The New York Times featured this body of work, calling it “raw and emotionally fraught” and the photographs themselves “powerful in their honesty.” CLICK HERE to read the piece, written by Jonathan Blaustein.
My family’s hope is that this work will help others currently on or soon to experience a similar journey, help those who have already been though a similar significant loss, help erase the stigma of mental illness, and humanize the experience of someone who is losing their sense of self while aging with disease. It was through this collaboration that I came to a new understanding of these diseases and mental illness in general, of how to distinguish the disease from the individual, of my own depths of anguish and love, and of the process of anticipatory grief.
*No image on this website may be used for any purpose without express written consent of the copyright holder SAFI ALIA SHABAIK*