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Monday 18 March 2019

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Half a million people in the UK have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition that affects around 145,000 people in the UK. Solent BA (Hons) Photo Journalism alum, Tom Maxwell has experienced first-hand how these diseases affect not only those suffering from them, but family and friends also. He documented this experience in his book, FADED. We spoke to Tom to find out more about his work.

Tell us about your book, FADED. How did you come up with the concept?

Tom Maxwell, Solent alumWhen we found out that my Grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and my Grandfather with Parkinson’s, I really did not know what to think of the diseases. My Grandmother was often forgetful early on and my Grandfather was slow but that is all I thought of it, I didn't realise how serious the situation was. At the time, I was completing a foundation course at one of my local colleges and was given the task of completing a documentary assignment and so I visited my grandparents post-diagnosis to take some photos. When I got back to college, my lecturers spoke to me about the photos and if I had thought of doing a project. As time went on and I started to photograph more, I started to understand my Grandparents more and what they were going through. I realised that I could put my emotion into my work.

What do you hope for your book to achieve?

I think we are, mostly, unaware of the severity of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Dementia (of which Alzheimer’s is a form of) was the biggest killer in the UK for 2017 and 2018, overtaking heart disease. The diseases are incurable and progressive, and I think sometimes we can be quick to judge someone for forgetting, I know I have in the past. The toughest part is when they forget you and it dawns on you that you can never go back. I would often play golf with my Grandfather when I was in school and the realisation of not being able to do something like that again is very emotionally tough. It’s more than forgetting a wallet, or keys or even a family member. The book is constructed, and the project is shot, in a way to honour my Grandparents in my own way, photographing stuff that is simple to us, like making lunch, or hanging washing, but can be very difficult and a very emotional journey for someone with dementia or Parkinson’s. The book questions how we perceive these diseases within society, while also emphasising the emotional journey a lot of families go through. 

The book focuses more on being a zine, something small. A lot of the credit for the publication of FADED goes to Steven Butter, a former student at Solent as well! Steven founded Tyro Collective, the publishers of the work. Tyro not only publish work, but also set up exhibitions and book reviews.

What other projects have you been working on since graduating?

Since graduating I have taken a job as a fine art print assistant, working on art editions for artists including Damien Hirst and Gerhard Richter. I have been developing my skills as an art and photographic printer, working on darkroom skills and colour management. Photography wise, I have been assisting in a photographic collaboration on documenting the country of Gibraltar, with local and international photographers.

How do you feel your degree at Solent has helped you in your career?

One of the things that Solent taught me was the importance of networking. Since leaving university I have seen the benefits of going out and speaking to fellow photographers, printers and artists. One of the reasons I decided to attend Solent was the quality of the facilities. Darkroom, studio and equipment were all in good condition and covered a wide range of needs, whether that was for colour and black and white darkroom printing, scanning, studio work or renting equipment for shoots/commissions. In my opinion, in the creative field at least, university should be seen as that platform for improving your practise, just as much as the degree you get at the end of it.

What's next for you?

I have some exciting news for the end of this month and will be posting on my Instagram account @tom_maxwellphoto. In April I will be returning to Gibraltar to continue the long-term documentary project on the region, as well as a new project focusing on rural life in England, my childhood and the history of ‘village mythology’ in modern society.

Images from FADED

Image taken from FADED - copyright Tom Maxwell

Image taken from FADED - copyright Tom Maxwell

Image taken from FADED - copyright Tom Maxwell

Image taken from FADED - copyright Tom Maxwell

Image taken from FADED - copyright Tom Maxwell

Image taken from FADED - copyright Tom Maxwell

Image taken from FADED - copyright Tom Maxwell

Image taken from FADED - copyright Tom Maxwell

Image taken from FADED - copyright Tom Maxwell

Image taken from FADED - copyright Tom Maxwell

Images credit: Tom Maxwell