“Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered From Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome.” 

This collaborative body of work explores the human condition and how one maintains a grasp on this reality within the confines of a deteriorating mind and body.  This work presents one man’s journey, struggle with disease and loss of self through the lens of his daughter, in order to tell a universal story that everyone will experience on some level in their lives. 

The work was made with love, compassion and the desire to understand my father’s mental illness, to be able to distinguish between the individual and the disease, as well as to tell his personal story. It was made to bring us closer together during a time when illness was causing separation and alienation by pulling us worlds apart. It was made to help others currently on or soon to experience a similar journey, to help erase the stigma of mental illness and to humanize the experience of someone who is losing their sense of self through aging with disease. 

Something about my father was out of the norm. The year was 2007 and I was living 3000 miles away. I knew the time had come for me to return to my family to help my mother figure out what ailed my father. A few years after my return, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. My mom and I had suspected this for a while but now with the official diagnosis, we knew that we’d have a long road ahead in caring for my father. I began my photographic collaboration with my father in late 2013 when he started to show stronger external manifestations of Parkinson’s. As one of his primary caregivers, I witnessed his daily struggles firsthand. Together we agreed to make this body of work as we knew that it would be important not only for both of us to understand his disintegration, but also for our extended family and for the community at large. I continued to document him for the following four years through his mental, physical and emotional changes. It’s been a very difficult and heart-wrenching journey to watch this person that I have known and depended on my whole life, and love dearly, become so incapacitated and dissolve into confusion and paralysis. Sadly I know I am not the first, the last, nor alone in this experience. 

My father passed away on January 1st, 2018, after a ten year (diagnosed) battle with Parkinson’s, the last two years of which were complicated by Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome. It was through this photographic collaboration that I came to a new understanding of these diseases and mental illness in general, of my father’s relationship to his self and the changes he was experiencing, of how to distinguish the disease from the individual, 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*