Terry Graham paints a heart-warming picture of what it's like to live with dementia

The London-based photographer provides a moving insight into the warm, charming and often difficult reality of living with the condition.

14 November 2022

When London-based photographer Terry Graham met with a talent agency up North, he was only looking for models to shoot for his portraits with. He had been living in East London and working as a photography assistant at the time, but after a chance meeting with Newcastle residents Norma and Norman, this set him on a journey that would see him tackle a topic fraught with misconceptions and sensitive complexities: dementia.

Terry was intrigued the minute he met the pair. Who was this elderly couple that almost shared the same name? Norma and Norman had been married for 60 years, which is no mean feat itself. But at some point, in that journey, Norman had begun to show signs of memory loss and cognitive impairment – which would later develop into dementia. Undeterred, the couple had taken part in various campaigns which got their names out there in the creative world, and put them right in front of Terry.

Photography was never something that the South Shields-born creative ever figured he had a chance at. “The arts wasn’t something that people, where I come from, worked towards,” he tells It’s Nice that. He credits his college lecturers with “steering me in the right direction and helping me realise that photography was something I could pursue”. Because of that encouragement, Terry’s work has since been featured in Sleek Magazine and Good Sport Magazine, as well as earning him multiple Portrait of Britain awards amongst others.

GalleryTerry Graham: Norma and Norman (Copyright © Terry Graham, 2022)

Inspired by Larry Sultan’s Pictures from Home series and the urge to provide “an honest, genuine insight into the lives of the loving couple”, Terry embedded himself in their reality. “Here I am entering into Norma and Norman’s world. I wanted to be sincere and be led by them,” he says. The matter-of-fact style of the images situates you right inside the couples’ quaint 80s bungalow in Newcastle. You’re caught between solitary contemplative moments, snapshots of mundane domestic chores that could’ve been taken in your own home and convivial smiles that stretch from one ear to the other. Terry himself couldn’t help but feel the weight of these intimate scenes, telling us that, “The more tender moments that presented themselves, such as them holding hands really got me”.

While the series provides a sobering peek into the day-to-day life of living with a chronic condition, it also emphasises the intimate beauty of relationships. For a moment, the condition is eclipsed by the incredibly tender and poignant love the couple share for each other. Of his purpose, Terry says, “I always intend to hero them in the best possible way – I am always on their side.” And whether it’s through poached eggs on toast or haircuts, the couples quietly dignified shared moments really do take centre stage. It was this that took Terry back when first doing the shoot. “What I couldn’t fully anticipate until spending time with them both was the love, warmth and understanding between Norma and Norman,” he says.

It’s clear from the project that the compelling compositions and warm natural lighting tell an important story about not just subsisting but living with dementia. Though Terry captures moments of confusion when Norman would forget who this photographer was and why he was there, he also frames him upright in his workshop, proudly showing Terry around. Terry concludes: “When I get to the latter years of my life [I hope] I am still with my partner and hope we can look after each other until it's no longer possible.”

GalleryTerry Graham: Norma and Norman (Copyright © Terry Graham, 2022)

Hero Header

Terry Graham: Norma and Norman (Copyright © Terry Graham, 2022)

Share Article

About the Author

Roz Jones

Roz (he/him) joined It’s Nice That for three months as an editorial assistant in October 2022 after graduating from Magazine Journalism and Publishing at London College of Communication. He’s particularly interested in publications, archives and multi-media design.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.