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you out tonight?

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10 August 2020

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Threshold, from 'Still Here', Lydia Goldblatt
Untitled, from 'Still Here', Lydia Goldblatt

BOOK Review: Lydia Goldblatt, Still Here

‘Still Here’ is an odyssey of love, loss and remembrance, as a daughter comes to terms with her father’s dementia diagnosis. Through the looking glass of her camera lens, Goldblatt reconnects with her ailing father and finds some semblance of the man he once was. A man who was drifting away from her in mind and body. She filled his last moments with a sense of purpose and a reason to re-engage with the outside world. The photos, which span three years, are an exploration into the human condition as they chronicle the changes her father’s health brings on her family, as they deal with their grief, feelings of loss and the inevitability of their own mortality.

In Spent Time, the white void surrounding a watch tells of the impossibility of time. A single timepiece lies alone in a vacant room. The photo encourages us to contemplate the significance of time when there is an end approaching. The crushing weight of a deadline when the end is within our sight. After all, forever is a very hard word for the human mind to conceive, let alone understand. These feelings of helplessness and confusion are feelings we have all felt after the loss of a loved one. Goldblatt’s book is most successful in its relatability due to these universally human notions of love and loss which it portrays.

In Threshold, warm light seeping from a single window speaks of the celestial hearth, homecoming, a safe place to be with family. Amidst the darkness we can see the beckoning light of sanctuary, where her father’s slumped figure can be seen through a window. Goldblatt captures an image, which tells of safety, a warm place of love and comfort that she associates with the father she dearly wants to hold on to. Goldblatt’s photos are not clinical or detached. Their simplicity imbues them with a fragile beauty as she plays with light and shadow to frame her subject. 

‘Still Here’ deeply resonated with me as my granny passed a year ago this June following her battle with her own dementia diagnosis. Dementia is a disease which isolates the mind of those it inflicts, not just from their loved ones but also from themselves. In Untitled, Goldblatt watches her father through the crack of a door. This physical barrier appears as a metaphor for the separation his condition has caused between them. She can now only see and communicate with part of the man he once was, never able to fully reach him, settling for a glimpse through the crack of a door. The series marks the transition from life to death, a fading existence. Her father appears outside of time, tittering on the edge of reality and dream as his condition pulls him further and further from his loved ones. Goldblatt uses her camera to draw the memory of him back to her. But ‘Still Here’ also offers us hope, hope that we can rediscover happiness in each other just as a father and daughter did. Through her camera Goldblatt captured small moments of clarity amid a sea of uneasiness and confusion. Her work, although sad and sometimes painful to view, is deeply moving and intimate. 

Goldblatt’s photos take on an ethereal quality after her father’s death as the artist deals with her own grief as well as the continuous aging of her mother. The photos hold a greater tenderness and vulnerability as we see her parent’s frail and aging body, exposed to the harshness of time. Window is one of my favourites from the book, which shows her mother standing in front of a window encompassed in warm, angelic light. I imagine her waiting there every morning, longing for her husband’s return. This highly personal and deeply moving collection of photos deal with raw and painfully human notions. ‘Still here’ is the last lament of a daughter and a farewell to a father who had in many ways been taken from his family long before his death.

‘Still Here’ can be purchased in the Open Eye Gallery’s independent shop for £25 and the series can be seen until Sunday 7th July as part of the KINSHIP exhibition.

 

(Photos discussed: Untitled, Threshold, Spent Time, Window)

 

Words by Cat McShane

Website: www.catmcshaneartworks.com

Still Here © Lydia Goldblatt, 2012

Lydia Goldblatt’s website: www.lydiagoldblatt.com

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