Monday, June 27, 2011

Paul Hill "Corridor of Uncertainty"

Paul Hill is regarded as one of the most influential photographers of Great Britain and is best known for his work "White Peak, Dark Peak". (1990 Cornerhouse)  He has spent his life photographing and teaching photography near his home is in Derbyshire, Northern England.  One of the unique things he and his wife, Angela, did was in1976 to establish "The Photographer's Place", a location for photographers to gather for study, retreat, and a workshop environment.

After 40 years of marriage, Angela was diagnosed with cancer, and in 2006, 2 years after her diagnosis, died from the disease. Her husband then began his journey into an uncertain world without her.  His photographs became his response to the grief he was experiencing. His work was published in November and is entitled "Corridor of Uncertainty" (2010 Dewi Lewis Publishing)

The title itself is steeped in metaphor.  Although those of us in the states may be unfamiliar with the phrase, it actually comes from the sport of cricket, and refers to a place that a batsman struggles most to determine whether to play the ball or leave.  Apropos for someone mourning...  Paul Hill writes, "Bereavement, for me, is being between two states: what has been and what may take place in the future. The work that I have made mirrors this interstice"

We have seen other artists document death, but I found it interesting that he writes about his images, "Of course they are informed by the harrowing experience of my wife's fatal illness, but I did not - could not- document her decline directly."

When I glance through the images I am struck by the emotional nature of the pictures. Even had you not known his wife had died, looking through the images as a collection, you'd surely have felt that something tragic had occurred. The images are quite raw and intimate and I'm grateful that Paul Hill decided to share his process with us.

His book is not the end of the matter either, in fact, it seems to be just the beginning. Currently Paul Hill is involved in a research project looking at photography, bereavement and grief. A website at De Montfort University explains the hopes for the project.

I encourage you to take a minute to glance through some of the images from his book, follow this link to do so.

Monday, June 27, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 0

Monday, June 13, 2011

Paul Simon

Watching the evening news a while back I enjoyed the interview of music legend Paul Simon with Brian Williams on NBC.  My ears pricked up when I heard the following part of the interview:

PS: "I'm not crazy about dying"
BW: "I don't know a big fan...."
PS: "No, not too many.  I'm trying to come...  I'm trying to not be pissed off about that"  and a little later...
PS:  "We were always told that your capacity for thinking sort of diminishes as you get older...but now I'm 69 years old and  I think the opposite, I think that it's better. So I look forward to seeing what more time will reveal."

Immediately I wondered about Simon's contemplation on aging and death. I went to work looking at his repetoir of songs to find out what he's been saying in his lyrics about death over the last 4 decades.

The first I found was released in 1972 entitled "Mother and Child Reunion".  From an interview with Rolling Stone that same year Simon explained the inspiration; "Last summer we had a dog that was run over and killed....It was the first death I had ever experienced personally....I felt this loss - one minute there, next minute gone, and then my first thought was, "Oh, man, what if that was [my wife] Peggy? What if somebody like that died? Death, what is it, I can't get it"

Knowing the inspiration then, the lyrics to the song fit, "I can't for the life of me/ Remember a sadder day/ I know they say let it be/ But it just don't work out that way/ And the course of a lifetime runs/ Over and over again."  However, just listening to the melody and upbeat tempo, you'd be hard pressed to hear this and think it was a mournful song.

In 1977 Simon released "Slip Slidin' Away".  There is not a lot of background known as to the inspiration for this piece, but clearly, there are palliative care themes in this.  Many think the "destination" described in the chorus represents death, others may quip that it is a metaphor for any goal or hope for one's life. Regardless the 4th stanza that says "God only knows/ God makes his plan/ The information's unavailable/ To the mortal man/ We work our jobs/ Collect our pay/ Believe we're gliding down the highway/ When in fact we're slip slidin' away"  sounds a lot like someone who is aware of their own mortality.

"The Late Great Johnny Ace" was released in 1983 and is very autobiographical.  Simon was 42 when this was released, and you can sense his maturity in the song.  We are taken on a journey revolving around death and life.  The song opens with Simon as a 12 year old hearing about Johnny Ace's death. Too young to really comprehend this reality, yet somber still the same, the song then shifts dramatically in tempo and melody to a more joyous time of the 60's. The listener has the sense that Simon feels young and immortal. The final third part changes back to the opening melody as Simon hears of John Lennon's death. He connects the news back to the late Johnny Ace's death, except now the sentiment is more personal. I find it haunting that the song concludes with a Phillip Glass instrumental piece, bringing an emotional climax to mortality, as one can imagine in the pulsating melody a clock ticking one's life away.

Finally we turn to Simon's recent album So Beautiful, or So What released this April. Just as the opening interview with Brian Williams suggested, Simon, now 69 years old, is even more aware of issues regarding aging and death. There are a couple of songs on this album that deal with death and mortality.  In "The Afterlife" he pokes fun at death with the opening words, "After I died, and the makeup had dried, I went back to my place" and near the end "After you climb, up the ladder of time, the Lord God is near. Face to face, in the vastness of space, your words disappear."

The more serious is "Love and Hard Times", which though not directly discussing death, is certainly a life reflection. The beginning sets up the human condition with a narrative about God coming and then deciding to disappear, "anyway, these people are slobs here".  The song then moves into a love ballad, and three stanzas cover their first meeting, hard times when love was gone and finally a present moment of gratitude.  The last verse could easily be someone on their death bed, in a still room, "The bedroom breaths in clicks and clacks/ Uneasy heartbeat, can't relax/ But then your hand takes mine/ Thank God, I found you in time"

All in all when I reflect over these works that cover 40 years I get the sense that Paul Simon has often been reminded that life is short. I get the feeling that this awareness allows him to focus on the important things. His statement then "I'm not too crazy about dying" may be less a fear or denial of death, than a realization that he has much more life to live, because life is good these days.

Monday, June 13, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 0

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is an AMC television show that I recently discovered. It is starting it's fourth season this summer, so it's not a new series. But after I watched most of the first season, I knew it had to be a post.

Walter White is an over qualified chemistry teacher with a 15 year old son with cerebral palsy and a wife who is 7 months pregnant. He discovers that he has terminal lung cancer. Knowing his time is likely short (I think 18 months is what was mentioned in the show). He sets out to make money to pay for expensive treatments to support his family after his death. He does this by joining with a former student, putting his chemistry knowledge to use, to make meth.

Overall the show is a drama with a lot of drug dealing and violence. Walter turns out not to be the mild mannered chemistry teacher type. But I found the cancer angle to be very interesting. There are some very interesting palliative care type scenes. Early on in the show (Season 1) Walter was refusing to talk about treatment. His family had an intervention to discuss his choices with him.

I wasn't able to find the exact clip of his intervention but below is a "Minisode" (essentially the highlights of season 1 episode 5). The scene starts at 3:18. It isn't the complete scene but hits most of the key points. Marie is Walter's sister-in-law (who is actually a doctor) and Hank is her husband (who is a DEA agent, the plot thickens). Please forgive the brief advertisement.

Here is a clip of series creator Vince Gilligan talking about how emotional this particular scene was to make.

I love the talking pillow. Hmm, may use that in a family meeting. I really like the speech Walter gives at the end. Choosing to do nothing is itself a choice and was actually a much more thought out one than his family anticipated. While I wouldn't really call this series completely palliative care, it is an excellent drama with excellent acting.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 0

Monday, June 6, 2011

"Recent Works" of Fereydoun Ave

This post topic came to me thanks to my Google alerts (a way you can get email updates on your choice of topic). It's a great way to get updates on topics you are interested in without having to periodically Google them.

Fereydoun Ave, a modern Iranian artist recently displayed his newest works, entitled "Recent Works" at the Khak Gallery in Tehran. Ave's work before this had included collages that merge the figures of Iranian wrestlers with ancient reliefs of Persian kings and warriors. He had focused a lot on ancient masculine figures. So what does this have to do with palliative care, you may ask?

This show marks a departure from Ave's earlier work. This show illustrates his own personal history after surviving a long illness. I couldn't find exactly what his long illness was (the doctor in me sooo wanted to know). I only found that this work is meant to tell that story.

Ave's latest show includes 11 mixed media pieces and 7 sculptures. "Each of the mixed-media works begins with haphazard schemas and splashes of watercolor. The artist then prints familiar snapshots of daily life. Finally he over-paints them with new watercolor splashes." His sculptures have an archaeological feel to them.

I leave the interpretation of modern art up to the reader. Ave doesn't provide any explanation for each piece. His different pieces show flowers, a world map with superimposed flowers, a photo of a chair by a window with blinds, a chalice, and a family portrait. I would be interested to know what you think.

More of Ave's work can be seen here at the Khak Gallery website.

Monday, June 6, 2011 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 1