Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget!

  • Dates
    2020 - Ongoing
  • Author
  • Location London, United Kingdom

'Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget!' is an exploration of life, love and loss. Multi-layered, this project was born out of an intimate collaboration with the artist’s father, Charles, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2012.

Project Overview:

Age is a privilege, but what if we forget?

This is the central question I explore in my ongoing project Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget!, which has developed out of a long practice of exploring mental and physical health, addressing a range of themes, such as vulnerability and control. In this project I take a close look at the wide-ranging effects of Alzheimer's, reflecting on my life and experiences as a starting point.

At the core of Age is a Privilege, Unless Your Forget!, I consider the life of my father Charles, and elements of it that I was previously unaware of before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's eleven years ago, such as his penchant for photography and documenting moments in his everyday life, from site visits for his role as agricultural trader to family holidays and birthday parties. We are united by our unique way of seeing and representing the world. Connecting our individual practices, we found a kind of common ground and I was inspired to not only scan and print my father’s images, but to manipulate and develop them further on the basis of recorded conversations with him in which I identified people, places and objects that he has completely forgotten; remembers vaguely but within different contexts; and can fully recall, including his wife Hazel, my mother.

Through processes of cutting, scraping and the use of stickers to intervene with my father’s photographs, I am seeking to depict both the decline of his cognitive health and the physical approach I have adopted to grieve my father while he is still alive. In this project, the recurring use of stickers is intended to represent the loss of my father's memory, while the colour of each sticker underscores the the extent to which he has forgotten a particular individual, setting or event. When viewing these sliced, scraped and crumpled images, viewers get the sense of my pain, as well as gaining an insight into the disorder and displacement of the memories of those with a dementia.

If one were to combine my photographs with those of my father, it is quite possible that viewers would struggle to identify the image maker. In fact, this was very much the case during a recent exhibition of this project in the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, Dublin, in which I included two of my own photographs alongside images by my father - even the Curator could only spot one of my two photographs by the end of the exhibition!

By illustrating the development of my father's illness and giving his experience a physical form, this project invites others to gain a profound insight into the loss of memory. The personal becomes universal. Viewers are immersed in the life of the man, father and business owner, Charles Wynne – his work, his travels, his family – and my experience of living and coping with his illness. Simultaneously, they are faced with thoughts and memories of their own loved ones who may be enduring the effects of a dementia or other illness. This project then becomes a way of learning, coping and feeling one's way through losing the parts of a person they once knew and how that person formerly understood them.  

Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! engages viewers and invites them to find their own unique way of responding to the project, as well as experiences they may have of witnessing the decline in memory of people in their lives. It is through engagement with this project, in the form of exhibition and/or publication that viewers will learn more about my experience and practice, as well as discovering more about themselves. Inside the lost and found memories of my father and I, those interacting with this project are encouraged to form a mosaic of their own recollections, reveries and feelings.

While photography is the core medium of this project, it has developed since 2020 to encompass other media and disciplines. For example, when this project was exhibited for the first time in the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, Dublin (RHA), an immersive projection existed alongside photographs; found objects, including my father's desk and chair; and a sculpture in the form of a 3D printed bust, which can be viewed in the attached images. You can view the film I made as part of this project here. Moreover, I injected the exhibition with poetry, a medium that has long been associated with the visual arts, particularly photography in the last century. This interdisciplinary aspect of the exhibition diversified the ways in which visitors connected to the subjects and topics addressed in the show. Dementia is largely based on points of connection or synapses in the brain. Moving from one language to another requires different type of connections. Thus, to connect a poem to a photograph, or a photograph to a poem, echoes what is happening in the brain. My own narration of a poem I wrote to my father accompanied the film projection in the exhibition. The words I assembled into a poem to express myself to my father can be likened to the manner in which he made snapshots of moments in his life to express himself.

Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! demonstrates the power of photography, beyond visual means. It is a form of therapy - a way to grieve, reflect and eventually heal. Through this project, and indeed my wider practice, I aim to challenge those engaging with it to think about photography in a new way - as something that exists outside of specific genres and labels.

Told from the perspective of a woman - a daughter, sister and mother - my personal journey with my father when making this project, as well as the developments in our relationship since his diagnosis, are central to the strength of Age is a Privilege, Unless Your Forget! . For so many people who think a they must react, feel or behave in a particular manner when caring or living with a loved one who is ill, this project nullifies that stigma and encourages you to find the power in your unique experience and mode of expression. This project does not serve as a gesture to the end - of living, relationships and feeling. Rather, it reminds of us of some of the beautiful outcomes of change: often, as was my personal experience, you can grow closer to the person whose personality and memory are altering with the effects of a dementia and as Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Declan Lyons of St Patrick's Mental Health Services, Dublin says, there can be benefits to forgetting certain moments in your life. For instance, my father had a long-held fear, or what could be referred to as residual memory, i.e. a memory directly passed through generations or progeny, of death, which no longer hangs over him. He has found peace in this way.

Ambitions for the future of Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget!:

If awarded the PhMuseum Women Photographers' Grant, I hope to expand this project and its reach to those within and outside of the visual arts. For example, an initiative of inviting those who visited the RHA exhibition to respond to it and share their personal experiences by writing and drawing in a sketchbook available in the exhibition space will form the basis of a future illustrated publication, the extent and style of which is dependant on funding and support. With this publication, I hope to highlight the diverse emotions, responses and experiences of those who have interacted with this project. It will include a number of photographs in Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget!. The publication strand of this project will allow several more people to not only engage with my practice and this particular project, but will spread and initiate further dialogue about dementia. This ties in well with an important aspect of the PhMuseum's mission, i.e. exploring innovative ways to display photography, engage, educate, and connect.

The PhMuseum Women Photographers' Grant would also provide incredible support for developing the content of Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget!. Further photographs can be printed, processed, and made display-ready for further exhibitions in the UK and abroad. It is important that this project can adapt to several display organisations, be they museums, galleries, hospitals, care homes or academic centres. With the overwhelming support I received from those who visited my first exhibition of this project, I am compelled more than ever to tour it, in several new iterations.

Perhaps most significantly, the exposure, support and mentoring that the PhMuseum Women Photographers' Grant offers, would be influential in bringing this project, and my work more broadly, to the international stage.

My core aspiration for this evolving project is to encourage greater dialogue in relation to dementia and the ever-growing risk of its many diseases globally. Presently, more than 55 million people have a type of dementia worldwide with millions of new cases each year. Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! endeavours to draw awareness to the feelings and experiences of those living with a dementia, both as a patient and witness to its effects. Those who engage with this project are offered insights into intimate, often-overlooked aspects of everyday life for those enduring dementia, including the ways in which they communicate and interpret the world around them. Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! places the significance of dementia, as well as the reality for so many of learning from, living with and loving someone enduring it at the forefront of viewers' minds, and it is hoped that this will in turn prompt further action and discussion in response to its prevalence.

It would be an incredible opportunity to have the support of the PhMuseum during the growth of this project and its assistance in reinforcing the immediate need for wider dialogue, information and support for the people affected by dementia - family, carers, friends and of course those living with the disease, to name a few.

RHA Curator Sarah McAuliffe writes, "Debbie has demonstrated her ability to strengthen this project with support. In 2022, she dreamed of compiling her research with experts, carers and family members into a publication that could be shared with people engaged with the visual arts and beyond. Within one year, the opportunity to exhibit this project brought about the creation of this publication, containing essays by her father's consultant Dr Declan Lyons, Debbie's sister Sandra and her father's carer Carmel. Debbie acts on support and there is no telling where this project could go if she was awarded the PhMuseum's Women Photographers' Grant."

Above all, my desire is to showcase the potential of photography as a mode of representation, expression and contemplation for everyone.

Artist Information:

I am an Irish artist based in London. I earned a BA in Psychology and Psychoanalysis and a MA in Photojournalism from the University of Westminster, UK.

I began my career as a documentary photographer and have refocused my work as a conceptual documentary artist, adopting a collaborative approach to understanding life and photo-therapy. I explore the subtle unconscious action of control or "lack of control" with a particular interest in the death drive of mental health.

I have participated in solo and group exhibitions in PhotoIreland 2010, 2011, 2012, 2022. My second large-scale solo exhibition of my project I- Cut debuted in Bermondsey Project Space, London in 2018. 

Most recently, I held a hugely successful solo exhibition of Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! at the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, Dublin, 24 August - 01 October 2023.

I am an experienced facilitator and tutor (informal and formal learning practices and contexts), having led numerous workshops and professional development programmes to support early career photographers.

Currently, in tandem with my photography practice, I work as a co-ordinator and mentor at the London Institute of Photography, organising monthly talks, creating teaching material, organising and curating their annual exhibition, and designing masterclasses.

Find out more about my practice here

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'Irk', 2023 60 x 75cm, Giclée print on Hahnemühle paper, torn
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Debbie Castro, 'Irk', 2023 60 x 75cm, Giclée print on Hahnemühle paper, torn

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, ''Grandad has been Forgotten , 17.8 x 12.7cm, Giclée print. Stickers
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Debbie Castro, ''Grandad has been Forgotten , 17.8 x 12.7cm, Giclée print. Stickers

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
i

Debbie Castro "The man and the pitchfork, the child and the doll" 2023100 x 175cm Giclée print framed. Hahnemuehle German Etching 
Black 8mm dot stickers

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
i

Debbie Castro "The repetition in conversation" 2023 17.8 x 12.7cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German Etching8mm neon stickers

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro "God and the atheist" 202340 x 30 cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German Etching Crumpled by hand
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Debbie Castro "God and the atheist" 202340 x 30 cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German Etching Crumpled by hand

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro "To return to youth"202317.8 x 12.7cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German EtchingBlack glitter
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Debbie Castro "To return to youth"202317.8 x 12.7cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German EtchingBlack glitter

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
i

Debbie Castro"Fullwood Carousel"202340 x 30 cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German Etching 
8mm neon orange Stickers

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro "Inappropriate"202317.8 x 12.7cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German EtchingBlade
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Debbie Castro "Inappropriate"202317.8 x 12.7cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German EtchingBlade

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
i

Debbie Castro "The man who mistook his father as himself" 202360 x 75cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German Etching Silver 8mm stickers

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro"To recognise no-one"202317.8 x 12.7cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German Etching Blade
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Debbie Castro"To recognise no-one"202317.8 x 12.7cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German Etching Blade

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'My wife is my mother', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.
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Debbie Castro, 'My wife is my mother', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
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Debbie Castro "It’s all back to front. 
I’m sorry for not knowing you
" 2023 40 x 30 cm Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German Etching Blade

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro"To return to youth"202317.8 x 12.7cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German EtchingBlack glitter
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Debbie Castro"To return to youth"202317.8 x 12.7cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German EtchingBlack glitter

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
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Debbie Castro "The forgotten" 202340 x 30 cm approx Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German Etching 
25 mm and 8mm Black, Gold StickersBlade

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
i

Debbie Castro "Sundowning" 2023 100 x 175cm approx
Giclée print framed Hahnemuehle German Etching 
Silver and Black 8mm dot stickers
 Black Glitter

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'The fingerprint', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print. stickers
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Debbie Castro, 'The fingerprint', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print. stickers

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
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Exhibition view of Debbie Castro, 'Irk', 202360 x 75cm, Giclée print on Hahnemühle paper, torn, with the desk and chair of Charles Wynne.Image credit: Ros Kavanagh

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
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Profile of Bust of Charles Wynne and View of 'Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget' in the Petronella Brown Gallery at The Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, 2023.Image credit: Ros Kavanagh

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
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Debbie Castro, Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget, Petronella Brown Gallery, Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, Dublin, Ireland, 2023.Image credit: Ros Kavanagh

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