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Facing Dementia – A New Approach
Dementia is a rapidly growing social challenge in almost all societies of the world. For most of us who are not directly involved, dementia seems to be synonymous with a uniform regression of mental abilities and a rapid loss of quality of life.
But quite contrary to this typical misconception, which is constantly being nurtured by undifferentiated and stereotypical media reports, dementia is not dementia. Aside from the fact that there are a number of different medical forms of dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease, it should no longer be ignored that every person affected develops his/her own and very personal form of dementia and his/her very distinct way of dealing with the limitations and changes resulting from it.
During the time that I have spent photographing in retirement homes and private homes all over Germany I have met many people affected with dementia who not only enjoy life to the same extent as they did before or even more; moreover I have met people who only after their diagnosis of dementia discovered talents formerly unknown, such as Werner Leypoldt who practically has not stopped making art work for years. And due to a vanishing consciousness of societal norms and rules many people with dementia enjoy personal freedom never experienced before.
Every human being is destined to personally be affected by dementia – provided we will be getting old enough and depending on some kind of individual biological clock. Some people start developing symptoms of dementia as early as in their thirties, while others live to an age of 100 years or older without showing any significant signs of mental regression.
We still do not know what physiological mechanisms may cause or boost dementia. There are many question marks, but more important than the academic side of this subject, is to rid it from its societal stigma and to give back dignity to those people involved. This project which is overdue is aiming at raising people´s awareness for one of the most important social challenges we are facing – worldwide.
This long term photographic project has grown to becoming the largest visual documentation on dementia ever.
A lot of the photographs have become part of the awareness campaign “Konfetti im Kopf” (“Confetti in the Head”), that I initiated, and that travels through Germany and other countries.
Michael works for magazines and in advertising, now specializing almost exclusively in dementia and related disorders and phenomena.
His work has been exhibited in numerous single and group exhibitions.
Awards and nominations include a nomination for World Press Photo Joop Swaart Masterclass in 1996; Fuji Euro Press Award, 1st Prize News, 1998; two grants of VG Bild-Kunst, Germany, in 2001 and 2005; Swiss Press Photographer of the year 2006, Gold Award; POYi-Nomination for Best Portfolio, 2007; Nikon Reportage Photography Grant, 2008, amongst various others.