A Day in the Life of Orla and Lissa

I decided I wanted to come to Denmark and study at DMJX for various reasons. I wanted to challenge my eye, learn a different way of photography and get the study abroad experience. But I also thought it would be a nice challenge to work with people who don't share my same nationality, and perhaps don't even speak my same language. I was faced with this issue while photographing Orla and Lissa.

You may recognize Orla and Lissa from my photographs of "old love." When a few other story subjects fell through for this assignment, I was not upset that I would have to return to Madsjberg to complete a story. I had had a great time with them the previous week, even if they kept talking to me in Danish and I could not understand them.

Orla and Lissa are quite an interesting couple. As I have said before, they have been together for seven years, which is also the amount of time they have spent in the nursing home. Orla and Lissa met shortly before Orla came to Madsjberg, and Lissa soon followed suit. However, the two do not share a room because Lissa has Alzheimer's, which causes her to be disoriented at times and she forgets where she is. Orla does not have Alzheimer's, but he is quite senile.

This posed quite the problem while I was photographing them. Although I had just seen the couple the week before, they did not remember me coming and spending a few hours with them. Not only that, but while I was working with them during the day, they forgot who I was. It took me awhile to realize this because I couldn't understand what they were saying, but when I figured out they were asking me what my name was and where I was from, it dawned on me that they had forgotten me in the three hours I had already been there.

I definitely set myself up with a challenge for this story, what with the senility and language barrier. Needless to say, I was drained by the end of the day. It is tiring trying to communicate with people who don't speak your same language and I felt especially bad because I couldn't tell them why I was there taking their picture. The head nurse had explained to them earlier, but she had since left. Thankfully, they started to ignore my weird presence after a while.

I am mostly happy with this story. I really wanted to try some different things with the situation. I wanted to show the relationship between Orla and Lissa, but I wanted to also show how it was affected by Alzheimer's. A disease that is not physically apparent is not easy to show, so I played with light a few different ways to illustrate being in the "light" and being "in the dark."

I was also quite careful photographing them. It is easy to show elderly people in a quite decrepit way if you want to catch in-between faces and uncomfortable moments. For example, while I was there, both Orla and Lissa got in fights with other Alzheimer's patients. It was like I was surrounded by six year olds. But I thought about how I would want my own grandfather, who also has Alzheimer's, to be photographed and I think that helped a lot. I tried to photograph them in the same manner and with the same respect that I would photograph Grandpa White.

This story was incredibly challenging with access, communication and because it was mentally overwhelming, But I'm quite glad I did it. I feel like this story, and its difficulties, taught me a lot about myself as a reporter and also put a challenge up that I was able to overcome. Special thanks to Carolina Harkort and Shan Rixon for helping me edit the story. You can few the story, in order, below: