An Eye for Caring

Local photographer captures spirit of caregivers

Photo Left: Raymond W. Holman Jr. is a photographer who specializes in portraits of caregivers. Sarah J. Glover/Photographer

With any luck, the people whom Raymond W. Holman Jr. photographs will begin to see themselves again.

So consumed are they by the bathing, feeding and financial and medical needs of another, they—much like the mental condition of the person for whom they’re caring—fade.

Caregivers can “forget who they are,” Holman explains from his West Philadelphia home decorated with black-and-white and colored photographs that document his award-winning, decades-long career in photography.

In 2008, Holman embarked on “Portraits of Family Caregivers” for people with dementia—culminating with 58 portraits displayed at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. But five years later, the issue of caring still haunts, perplexes, fascinates and inspires him. So now, with support from Calumet Photographic, Holman is at work on a book and documentary film on the subject.

Seven portraits will be featured at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s conference in New York on June 26. Then in July, Holman will photograph more caregivers at Calumet’s New York City location and then at its studios across the country.

“I want to capture a look at the spirits of these people,” he says. “I want this book to serve as witness to our ability to care.”

Holman posts some  portraits on his blog (http://1raymondwholmansr.wordpress.com)—people who look proud, determined, sweet, nurturing, exhausted. Subject “Jacquelyn” (he uses only first names) wrote with her photo: “Many people think that taking care of my parents is an extraordinary thing. But I am an ordinary person.”

“Matt” recalled that his mother “was a great, interested conversationalist.” Now “she struggles to hold a conversation, because after a few words, she cannot remember what she was going to say. . . There are just some songs I cannot listen to when I’m with her, without crying, and that’s OK,” he wrote.

Holman carries such stories not just on his blog, but also in his head. He rattles off statistics, such as: Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and 40 percent of caregivers die before their loved one.

This photographic journey began when Holman’s father couldn’t remember the way to his daughter’s house. Over the next four and a half years Holman cared for his father, hiring two caregivers for him, before his father died in 2001.

He said, “Before Daddy got sick, I was really focused on my own self. When Daddy got sick, I started focusing on Daddy. When Daddy died, I got lost.”

Then an assignment for WHYY to photograph a man suffering from frontotemporal dementia drew Holman’s interest to the man’s wife, who herself took 14 pills a day for her Type-2 diabetes and fibromyalgia and who used a pace maker.

More recently, at a Wawa store he encountered a woman who asked  him to help her find her way back home. “I keep meeting people, so it seems my purpose, as far as my photography right now, is to bring about awareness about people with dementia and the people who care for them,” he said.


Related Articles: 


Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia by Raymond W. Holman Jr.



Raymond W. Holman Jr. Alzheimer's Caregivers Project 




An Eye for Caring
Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.


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