Anne Moffat documents her grandmother and the disorientating nature of Alzheimer’s
Shot between 2015-2019 on several trips to visit her grandmother in Malaysia, the series conveys the feelings that arise “from watching the slow decline of a life of someone you cherish”.
- Ruby Boddington
- 26 April 2021
Photographically, Melbourne-based creative Anne Moffat is drawn to people and their stories. It’s an interesting paradox to her personal life in which she describes herself as an introvert, getting the majority of her energy from being alone. However, she thrives on building long-term relationships with others when it comes to her creativity. “My favourite photos rely on an intimacy and trust that isn’t necessarily present on the first encounter,” she explains. “I guess a camera is my way of moving through and understanding the world; my companion, sidekick, and shield.”
Documentation of the world around her has always been a key part of Anne’s process and her first camera was “a small digital point-and-shoot that lived in my pocket throughout high school and was used to document memories with friends (and share on MySpace!).” She recalls with clarity the realisation that photography allowed her to freeze time. “An obsessive collector and hoarder of moments, I couldn’t leave anything un-photographed,” she adds, and so she became hooked on the medium. “Over the years this urge has mellowed, but for me, it’s still a strange version of mindfulness, my own way of being present. It’s a record that I am alive; an extension of myself,” Anne continues.
While this outward perspective has always been key to her relationship with the camera, Anne’s project Forget Me Not 勿忘我 feels altogether different. Made over multiple trips to visit her maternal grandmother, Kong Fung Tsze in Sandakan, Malaysia during the final years of her life from 2015-2019, it feels introspective and intimate; a glimpse into familial love – and grief. “At 90 years of age she was mother to eight, grandmother to 18, great-grandmother to ten and counting – and a sufferer of late-stage Alzheimer’s Disease,” Anne tells us.
The images in the series are nothing short of beautiful although simultaneously utterly mundane. We see everyday scenes – tight crops of family members holding hands, empty bowls after dinner or the view of the local neighbourhood. Throughout these, portraits of Anne’s grandmother appear, allowing us to get to know the woman Anne describes as “a dragon” a little. The result of this combination draws focus to the small moments which must matter so much as a family comes to terms with losing a loved one.
Alongside Anne’s photographs, Forget Me Not 勿忘我 also features scans from a notebook featuring cut-out images and handwritten notes. Anne explains: “When my grandmother first started forgetting, my mother crafted her a number of small ‘life story’ notebooks lovingly filled with images and handwritten memories of their lives together. Ironically and brutally, the more you read your life story, the further along the path of dementia you are, and the less you recognise it as your own.” In tandem, Anne’s photographs and her mother’s notebooks create a dialogue and provide “context to my grandmother’s once full and vibrant life”.
“Although it’s impossible to fully comprehend what people suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease experience, this is my visual interpretation of the disorientating, challenging and repetitive nature of the condition, and the feelings that arise from watching the slow decline of a life of someone you cherish,” Anne says. On what she got from her work, she also adds: “In hindsight, the project was a process of trying to understand more of who I am and who she is, while watching her lose her independence and sense of self.” From our perspective, the work is a quiet, peaceful and moving testament to one family’s love of their grandmother achieved through soft colours and informal compositions. More broadly, it echoes themes Anne is interested in even when she’s not working on such personal projects. “This is something I’m still developing and finding for myself, but thus far I see myself drawn to the melancholy, humour, frustration and beauty of family and other human connections,” she says.
Forget Me Not 勿忘我 is currently on show at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne until 13 June. Reflecting on the project and what she hopes to do next, Anne concludes: “It’s a bittersweet relief to finally have that work finished, after such a long time working on it, as well as exhibition postponements due to the pandemic. I feel a bit at a loose end, emerging from a period of intense focus and blinking my eyes as they slowly readjust to the light. I’m not sure what’s next after the show ends, but a bit of rest and reflection, and then something new.”
GalleryAnne Moffat: Forget Me Not 勿忘我 (Copyright © Anne Moffat, 2015-2019)
Anne Moffat: Forget Me Not 勿忘我 (Copyright © Anne Moffat, 2015-2019)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.