I have nine (self) portraits now and, with the exception of ‘Old Stan’, the drunk, (maybe even that one, too, to an extent) there has been an element of fun about most of them. They have certainly provided some amusement to most people who have seen them. It has never been my intention to avoid that, but it has always been my intention that there would be a serious element, too. I could envisage that, in whatever form they are eventually presented, there would be some images that would puncture the fun, reflecting life, I guess. ‘Old Stan’ would be one of those; and my next planned portrait could be even more powerful, if I get it right.
I am, though, aware that I can begin to step into sensitive areas. I have already shelved one planned image because it was going to cause concern to some family members – that of the retired teacher accused of indecent assault. Even the fiction was potentially uncomfortable to some family members; and I understand & respect that. I am planning that my next image will be of a stroke victim – ‘Granddad Stan’, a birthday snap, photographed by his young grandson. More than 150,000 strokes happen every year in the UK – mostly to over 65s (my next birthday). When I was 60 I was (like many) identified as having high cholesterol and have been taking ‘statins’ since then. That significantly reduces my stroke risk – but it might have happened and does happen to those of my age. It happened (admittedly at a slightly older age) to my Uncle Harry.
This is Harry, with our son, photographed in the summer of 1985. In the photograph, he is about 71 and a more cheerful, gregarious, talkative, active septuagenarian would have been hard to find. Interested in pretty much anything, always teasing, he loved to stay up-to-date, liked to get out and about, and was very involved with, and supportive to me when I was a child. Not long after this photograph, whilst on his way to or from (I can’t recall which) Blackpool, by bus, on his own and surrounded by strangers, he had a huge stroke. He lived until around 1994, when he died, aged 80 – but he never went home again, to the cottage where he’d lived all his life (apart from serving in the Merchant Navy); he only ever walked, with assistance, around the care home; and, most devastating, he never spoke or smiled again.
I have told Harry’s story to emphasise that I will be producing this next image with serious intent. ‘Granddad Stan’ will have suffered a stroke within the last twelve months. It will have damaged the left side of his brain, meaning that his right side has been paralysed, his speech has gone, and there is a lack of expression in his face. There is every prospect, with therapy, that he may eventually recover some or all of his faculties, but in the short term, he often feels hopeless and depressed – even on his birthday, with his grandson visiting. It requires a ‘performance’ from me, as have all the others; I have done my research, but I don’t yet know when I’m going to shoot it. This is by way of a statement of (serious) intent, lest anyone get the impression that I am being light-hearted about it.