13 January

I Wasn’t Banned, But My Camera Was, A Part Of Me.

by Jon Katz

When the Mansion aides got to the Danforth Adult Care Center Sunday –  some of the Mansion residents are staying there temporarily until the Mansion is repaired –  they were greeted by these flyers announcing that “no photographs or videos of any residents allowed within facility. This includes visitors.”

The Mansion aides – and other employees – were required to sign their names and the date.

Nobody had any doubts about who the flyer was meant for. One Mansion aide said she told the Danforth staff she wouldn’t be a part of kicking me and Red out. Oh, said the official, that won’t be necessary. Stopping the camera, they probably thought, would do the trick.

I don’t think Holmes would have had too much trouble figuring out who the nameless photographer was, and I am the only person around taking a photo of the Danforth’s “visitors.” Why, I wonder would that trouble them?

I suppose that’s better than getting banned altogether, which almost happened, but banning my camera feels like a part of me is being banned. Having the right to do it doesn’t make it the right thing to do.

No one from the Danforth spoke to me or asked to see me, so I can only guess that they just don’t want me taking photos of anyone, even those who have given permission and are not permanent residents there.

It’s their place, and they have the right to set the rules, and I will honor them.

Most assisted care facilities have the same phobic policies, they all claim they are protecting the privacy of the residents, even when privacy is clearly not an issue: the Mansion residents and their families have all agreed to being photographed, they grasp the larger importance of taking photos of the elderly who agree to have their pictures taken.

I am obsessive about respecting privacy. I never take photos of anyone without permission, and I quite often don’t take photos of people who do give permission – if they are sick or sad or aren’t in the right mood. There are many Mansion residents you have never seen and will never see. It just isn’t appropriate.

Since the Danforth administrators will not talk to me, I just don’t know what their thinking is. I’ve never taken a photo of one of their residents and would not.

I feel sorry for the residents of institutions with policies like this. Privacy is a very important issue, and I respect it, but I started  taking photos in the first place because I don’t believe the elderly should be hidden away out of sight for the rest of lives under the rubric of protecting them from ever been seen.

We take this good and  hard working people at the edge of life and hide them from view, they wither and die out of sight. I am determined to not let that happen, it is wrong to hide the elderly behind this self-serving screen.

The elderly have the right to be seen, they have the right to be heard. They have the right to raise their voices to the world.

I would absolutely have defied this ban on pictures if not for the Mansion aides. Since they were forced to sign the paper, I didn’t want to put them on the spot.

This is why I so respect the owners of the Mansion, who want the residents to benefit from this connection from the outside world and who  still protect their privacy.

They grasped the importance of photographs from the beginning. They believe in being transparent, the foundation of trust.

Even during these difficult two weeks, the Mansion never once asked me not to write about their water troubles or to stop taking photographs of the residents and their troubled building.

How ironically that the people who banned my camera – my voice –  are 20 miles away and have never met me or spoken with me, or asked the residents what they want regarding photographs. This is the drama of the elderly, they are too often dependent and powerless.

The people who read my blog trust the Mansion because they see the Mansion, they have never had anything to hide.

Those images are what makes the place so special. That’s how people know them.

I greatly appreciate the Mansion’s openness and their grasp of the fact that when people outside get to know the elderly, they are eager to write to them, send them photos and drawings, support their parties, give them puzzles, art supplies, socks, books and DVDs. And help them when they are in need.

They are no longer alone. They are no longer visible. Privacy is an admirable concern, it ought never be a wall.

In this, the people I call the Army Of Good have rushed to support the residents when they needed them the most. They have made the resident’s evacuation from the Mansion more comfortable, entertaining and stimulating, from the flowers in their rooms to the books they can read and movies they can now see.

The Mansion is a Medicaid facility, there  is not big money in that, and the residents are often poor. Because of these photos, they have gotten the help they need, and without red tape or bureaucratic interference.

The people who see these photos send hundreds of letters each year for the residents, who see that they are not forgotten or invisible to the outside world.  It is essential for them to know this, it melts their sense of isolation.

At Christmas, the residents are flooded with stocking stuffers and cookies.  Next week, we are planning a Homecoming Celebration at the Mansion with Chinese food and music. They are very much looking forward to this as they ache to get home.

This is a profoundly beautiful thing, it is a shame to forbid it.

The Mansion  hallway bulletin boards are filled with photos and notes about the towns my blog readers live in. There is a great dialogue between the residents and the people who know them and care about them.

I don’t see the justification for forbidding that.

This week, one of the worst things that can happen to people at the edge of life happened to these people. They were uprooted from their homes and lived. But because of their faces and stories – their photos – they got real help in real time when they most needed it.

Look at the activity table I was able to provide the stranded Mansion residents because they are known and loved in many different places.

As I sat down with the residents tonight – I brought DVD movies and a DVD player to help break up their boredom – Art, who can be gruff, looked me in the eye and said “We just want to thank you for all that you have done for us this week. You’ve been here every single day and we appreciate it.”

The other residents joined in. It’s not always easy to know if they notice, but they do notice, they always know who shows up.

I’m glad Art didn’t see me crying as I walked out to my car with Red.

As I was getting my jacket on to leave, an elderly woman, a resident of the Danforth, warily approached the room and stared at our activity table, brimming with coloring books, puzzles, books, photo books, paper trains and crayons. She looked amazed at the table, wondering what it was.

She stared at the growing pile of paper trains.

She walked slowly over to the table, and picked up an “Inspirational Quotes” coloring book. She sat down in a chair with it and turned the pages, slowly and painfully, it seemed. I guessed arthritis.

After a few minutes, she stood up using her walker and turned to me and the Mansion aide and asked shyly: “Would it be all right to borrow this?” Of course, said everyone in the room, we suggested taking some crayons.

We all talked about it, and agreed to donate most of the books and puzzles to the residents of the Danforth when the residents leave.

I trust this woman will not be banned from the room where the Activity Table is tomorrow. If so, I will make some loud noises.

So I’ll be back there every day, as I have been, until the residents go home. I will use the photographs I’ve taken before the flyers went up.

Like the Mansion residents, I am also very eager to get back “home.”

Enough is enough.



  1. What you are doing is wonderful.. During this temporary roadblock I believe you can be just as impactful by finding other creative things to photograph…momentous, etc that are so important to the residents and help your readers continue to enjoy learning about them.

  2. What strikes me most about any of this, is the fact that your photos of the mansion bring forth letters to residents and make their lives so much more meaningful. When my father in law went into a home, he was only there 1 month before my husband and I could travel to see him, but what I noticed was NO ONE had put anything personal up about him, nothing..one of the aides said to us that they knew nothing about my FIL, so couldn’t really talk to him about anything that mattered to him. We went out and filled his room with photos of family etc..and his beloved flowers back home. He had dementia so couldn’t really talk for himself. It was so sad that no one knew anything about him until we got there, then unfortunately, within one week he passed. So for the residents that perhaps do not have family, those letters from your blogs fans must mean so much and are conversation pieces between everyone there, including the aides..so sad that they have taken this part of their life away..so very sad..

  3. The reason the authorities at Danforth won’t discuss their policy with you is the same reason a private citizen is never allowed to speak one-on-one with the person who instigated the policy. A one-on-one discussion would inevitably include being asked to explain the need for the policy in the first place. They can’t explain the need in a logical way because rules like this are rarely based on logic. They are knee-jerk reactions brought on by ignorance and baseless fears. So instead the authorities issue vague and all-encompassing statements that will almost certainly contain the phrases “due to concerns” and “out of an abundance of caution”. In short, the policy is in place “just because”. I’m with you, Jon. The sooner the residents get back to the Mansion, the better. It sounds like the Danforth is operated more as an institution than a home. The people that live there permanently have my sympathies.

  4. From the images of the Danforth that I have seen, if you look beyond the Mansion residents, who are the subjects of the photos, this place looks very bland and institutional. I suspect those who operate the Danforth are threatened by the comparison. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of being threatened they were inspired to be more like the Mansion?

  5. luckily, when my mom was in a facility, no one ever banned photos of her nor banned my dog visiting. I took lots of photos of the areas that she couldn’t see well, mostly so that she could see them better on my phone ( where i could enlarge them ).

    sheesh…..”methinks there is something afoot”….why else do they want it hidden ?

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