During the last eight months I have been embedded within Derbyshire Community Services NHS Trust sites, primarily the Riverside Ward at Newholme Hospital in Bakewell. More recently I have visited the Linacre and Melbourne Wards at Walton Hospital in Chesterfield - as well as developing connections within the local community through my relocation to the area.
As a research artist it is my role to create a sense of what it is like to be part of this project, to somehow enter the world of the person with dementia: observing, reflecting, and creatively interpreting what I am witness to within the walls of these particular clinical environments, and through the ongoing research process. And within the covers of two outwardly nondescript brown notebooks, Notebook 1 and Notebook 2, lies the life of the unfolding project that I am experiencing.
I perhaps should be more concerned that, as a photographer, I have not yet taken a photograph. Instead, without any sense of urgency or alarm, I have returned to the same questions: how can I introduce my camera into this clinical environment, is it actually appropriate for me to do so, and what is the specific reason for taking photographs here?
I am reminded of another question, one that I have not yet asked: Can I take your photograph?
It is only now, with a clearer sense of perspective over my experience, and hundreds of scribbled pencil notes later, that I can begin to contemplate what might be visually possible. The richness of my experience on the project so far has created a foundation upon which I can begin the development of my ideas through the use of image, text and sound. The camera had to wait a little while until I went through the subtle process that is contained within the notebooks.
That subtle process began during the early days of the intervention, when I initially used the notebooks to hide behind, awkward at my own inexperience of being around people diagnosed with dementia, and unsure of what to expect or how to react. Without the stabilising presence of my camera, the note-taking has forced me to explore differently, to find other creative access points, to be less separate and more present, to observe and yet participate.