14 January

The Issue Isn’t Photos, It’s Isolation And Indifference

by Jon Katz

I got a message last night from the daughter of one of the Mansion residents that I want to share:

I want to thank you and your readers for all of the help you have given my mother and the other residents this week and throughout the year. They love you and they love Maria and Red. Your photographs have been a great comfort to us, we can see how our Mother is doing even though we don’t live close by, and we know you have helped her more than once this year in a number of ways. Your photographs are a comfort to us, and she really loves being noticed. Thank you, thank you, please don’t let them stop you.”

Thanks much for that, I’m not inclined to let them stop me.

Yesterday, the management of the Danforth Adult Care Facility put up a note to all staffers – theirs and the Mansions – forbidding anyone from taking photos or videos inside their facility of anyone, including visitors.

I find last night and this morning that I’m not comfortable permitting them to make the Mansion residents invisible again, especially during this difficult time, when they help and attention, and when they need to be reminded that they are not alone or forgotten.

We all have to resist sometimes in our own way, I’m figuring out my way. I’m posting this photo of the Mansion residents having dinner a few days before the ban notice.

The Mansion staff does a great job of protecting their residents privacy in many ways.

Sometimes, a resident will die and I won’t know anything about it until I see someone else in their room. There are many residents you never see.

The support and attention the residents  have received from the outside world has made an enormous difference to them this week while regulators and officials – acting perhaps in good faith – have uprooted them from their lives.

For me to stop posting images of them would make me compliant which a system that has made them invisible to the outside world. We hide the elderly away and out of sight, we don’t really have to think about how they are or how they are being treated.

The photographs are their voices, they bring them to life, they honor their lives and tell them the are not forgotten. They connect them to their families.

I reject the idea that they need to be protected from me, or from Red, or from the Army Of Good. They need to be protected from isolation and indifference, and I don’t see too many bureaucrats inspecting for that. The Mansion understands that, they have made my work possible

I respect the residents privacy totally, as does the Mansion, but the issue is not privacy. It is clearly something else. The residents are entitled to the support they are receiving, and the photographs are essential to that. They are never taken without permission.

I’m not sure how I will respond to this Danforth note. I didn’t bring my camera into the Danforth last night when I visited last night. I joked the other day that they would regret it if they hauled Red or me off to jail. Maybe it ought not to be a joke.

Out of concern for the Mansion aides, who were compelled to sign the ban, I won’t take any photographs inside the Danforth. The Mansion aides might get into trouble, and they don’t need to be in the middle of this.

But no one can stop me from posting photographs I took before the ban notice went up.  I have permission to photograph the Mansion residents, I broke no rules, although no one has bothered to talk to me directly.

So I will do that this week, I don’t want them to fade into memory or feel forgotten. Those who can read my blog faithfully. I won’t let them down. And thanks once again for your support.

9 Comments

  1. If you have the energy. I would send a direct letter to newspapers and the Danforth so called management The letter obviously needs to include some of your sentences in this posting. Powerful and persuasive. I doubt they will change their “ policies “. But, it will make them think.

  2. Is the Danforth Adult Care Facility considered a public place? If so, administration should not be able to prohibit cameras. As long as you have the patients’ permission to take photographs and IF the facility is considered a public place then it seems that their actions could be a violation of the right to freedom of expression.

    1. Thanks Anne-Maria, I think they are just doing what the state is requiring them to do..I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think this is them..

  3. As a former school teacher, I can see that the handwriting on that note is from a young person (but then everybody is young to me–because they are). I really appreciate the photographs of the Mansion residents and find them inspiring–those folks are so tough and so willing to give something a try–from reading, from karaoke, to taking a boat ride. Nevertheless, it seems cruel to cut the Mansion residents off of something that so many people enjoy. It sounds like the administrator doesn’t understand that there is a difference between the two groups of residents. Can you say that you will sign the note if you can have a personal visit from the administrator? You deserve a chance1

  4. Post away..as many photos as you can to bring forth the visibility of the people that need this the most..I hope I never become an invisible person in an institution of my children’s choosing..but if I do, I hope there are people like you with this ability to keep the outside world, inside my world..

  5. jon you are amazing and all the photos you take do make these people visible and loved by all of us!
    this whole issue reminds me of one flew over the cuckoos nest and i pray you can turn it around, as the army of good needs what you do just as much as all the people , animals and causes you help and make us all aware of .. bless you and your kindness, creativity and energy to keep making this world a better place for all beings!

  6. I said earlier that writers are dangerous people but, just like Matthew Brady brought the Civil War out of grandiose drawings and shoved the reality into people’s faces, so have you with your pictures of the Mansion residents. Your descriptions of their confused and frightened faces when their world was upended have shown how fragile their lives are. My heart goes out to the Danforth resident who asked to borrow a picture book. Our elderly need advocates, voices who speak when they cannot because of fear or confusion of surroundings. This upending of the Mansion has been a learning experience for us all.

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