Why I photograph grandma

29 Aug 2011By Jeffrey Liam, Singapore

I started photographing my grandmother because I want to make memories of her. And I hope this project would somehow make me feel closer to her.

Grandma suffered a stroke three years ago and is now confined in her room, sometimes coming out on her wheelchair. Communication with her is impossible. As she was formerly a very active and independent person, she grew increasingly frustrated and over time her mental health worsened.

While photographing her, I opened her bedroom drawer and I found old photos of her third son, Tiam Hock (who is my uncle). He passed away many years ago. My grandma was visibly upset. Children, she believed, should not die before their parents. She still misses him badly.

Even when I took a photograph of my aunt putting grandma to bed, I am drawn to the old kerosene lamp on her table. It reminds me of the nights when grandma would stay up late, going through the day’s 4D (lottery) results by that flickering light so that she could calculate her bid for tomorrow.

This project made me realise a few things personally. It made me rethink how when we are younger, we never seem to want to deal with ageing issues until a later time. Also, in which period of time or age do we suddenly feel that we have reach “old” age? Is there a defined time? Everyone’s experience and definition would be different and varied.

I wonder what goes on in grandma’s head: What is she thinking? How does she feel? I wonder how does the nurse feel about caring for my grandma. I wonder how the family feel and think about her illness. I feel a sense of void, a sense of peace, a sense of what is like being in between incomprehensible states.

I only wished that I had started this project a lot earlier but it is not possible right now. I will continue photographing her for as long as I can but it also made me want to photograph my parents now and definitely not later.

Jeffrey is one of the two winners of the Before We Forget Photo Challenge. His photo essay will be exhibited at three exhibitions in September.

As told to Jeremy Boo.