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Photographing To Remember - Documenting Life Events In A Powerful & Beautiful Way

We speak to Chandler Collins, who bravely documented her grandmother's struggle with a terrible illness.

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Gandy

Image © Chandler Collins, Gandy Project

When Chandler Collins found out his grandmother, Meriam, had been diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy in 2010, he made the brave decision to document the battle his grandmother faced in the photographic medium. 

The photographic series he captured, called 'Gandy' (an affectionate nickname for his grandmother) shows the harrowing changes that this horrible illness imparted upon his grandmother and changed Meriam into a shell of her former vibrant, energetic self. 

For anyone, this would have been a very difficult project. Having to see these changes, and document them in a way that did justice to the grandmother that he loved must have been hard. Chandler began the series when he was just 15 as a means of preserving his grandmother's memory but the series soon became a way of providing comfort to Chandler and his family by preserving the few happy moments during Meriam's illness. 

Gandy

Image © Chandler Collins, Gandy Project

Chandler has always been close to his grandmother, who remained positive as much as possible throughout the illness. "Even when she was battling her illness, she always had an ability to see through any sort of façade and understand what you were going through," says Chandler.

"She was never one to sugarcoat reality and she was always self-aware in a way that can be a bit frightening. She understood that she wouldn’t survive the illness but she always tried to keep people positive. Often when I would come to visit her in the assisted living facility, she would tell me 'Chandler, don’t be cooped up in here with me. We’re just a bunch of old folks! Go have fun with your friends.' She wanted everyone in my family to keep going about our lives even when she was losing hers. I’ll always admire and aspire to be like her for these reasons."

The illness PSP is a rare degenerative brain disorder that affects movement, walking, balance, speech, swallowing, vision, mood, behaviour, and thinking. "Essentially, this incurable disease continues to progress until the victim’s bodily functions completely shut down and have decayed from the inside," adds Chandler. 

Gandy

Image © Chandler Collins, Gandy Project

Chandler's images document from when the disease began to take hold in 2012 through to the sad death of his grandmother two years later. Chandler says he tried to be balanced in his photos, capturing the brighter days as well as the darker ones. The disease was gradual: "I don’t believe there was ever a certain point that things drastically changed, but there were many smaller events such as her ER visit when she had trouble swallowing or when she had to be moved into a nursing facility near the end of her life."

"There was an ebb and flow between hope and tragedy with each new event because they came at times when it seemed that she was stabilising or getting better. Each event was a dose of reality whenever we tried to deceive ourselves that she was getting better. These photos capture both the lighter and darker moments and I try to present that contrast so that the viewer can experience the short-lived hope followed by the crushing reality. The photos in the assisted living facility of my mother laying on Gandy were taken just 24 hours apart, but there is a drastic shift in my mother’s expression as she realises that Gandy wouldn’t make it through that night. The photo of my mother holding her was taken shortly before she died and that was the last photograph I took of her," explains Chandler.

Gandy

Image © Chandler Collins, Gandy Project

 

When capturing the images, Chandler was determined to only capture things that really mattered. "I could have made the Gandy book twice as long, but I’m a fan of using the least possible to tell a story. I believe that using less images allows the viewer to fill in the gaps with their own experiences, and I’ve always respected writers who allow you to put your own past into the story. I think that helps to build a connection between the reader and the work."

 

Gandy

Image © Chandler Collins, Gandy Project

 

There is definitely a connection to the viewer here. Despite the fact that I do not know Chandler at all, I feel his anguish and pain, sadness and trying to stay strong through these images. For someone so young they have a real maturity and depth to them that older photographers can struggle to capture. 

 

Gandy

Image © Chandler Collins, Gandy Project

Black and white was Chandler's chosen medium for the project, which was taken using a variety of cameras including a Fujifilm X100s, a 1930s Leica IIIf, Canon Powershot S95, Canon EOS 60D and an iPhone 4. "I believe that each camera gives me an entirely different perspective and way of shooting and that these photos have different tones depending on which one I used," explains Chandler. "I shot in black and white partly because of technical limitations and partly because I prefer the abstraction of black and white and how it’s deliberately an artistic and not documentary medium. Even though these photos are documentary style, they are shot from my point of view. Since that viewpoint is obviously biased, I chose to present these photos as an artistic and biased retelling of Gandy’s final years instead of being a verbatim photographic account."

See the full Gandy project and more of Chandler's work on his website. Chandler is from Alabama, USA and is currently studying at the University of Virginia. He is a documentary photographer by heart but has now begun to transition into portraiture and sports photography.

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Comments


Biddybix 3 1 United Kingdom
30 Jan 2017 2:47PM
My heart goes out to Chandler Collins. It must have been so hard to photograph his beloved Grandmother in her final, illness-ravaged years.
That said, he's made a fantastic set of photographs that tell his Grandmother's story. If he is studying photography at university, then he should do
really well, which I am sure his Grandmother would want for him.
I'm quite sure he should become a professional photographer, and maybe author as well, and I wish him all the luck and happiness in the world.
SlowSong Plus
12 9.3k 30 England
30 Jan 2017 8:44PM
What a brave, loving and talented young man. Unbelievable maturity.

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