For this long-term series, I am working with people in the early stages of dementia and trying to tell their life stories, with the use of coded objects, in a single image.
I have always been fascinated by Renaissance painters like Hans Holbein The Younger and Jan van Eyck and the way they used symbols in their portraits to hint at stories and details about their subjects. As well as how fragile these stories are - without the portraits, their personal histories would most likely be forgotten.
For Recollection, I work with each person for a long time to learn details about their lives and note the prominent stories that they often tell. In making the portrait, I am trying to create a legacy to the person I know and the life they have lived before those memories and details disappear.
The portrait above is of Gina, her favourite flowers are lilies. She has befriended the concierge in her building, who regularly brings her fresh flowers whenever they over order for the front desk.
Beside Gina sits a cushion, which marks the outline of Poland and Warsaw, the city where she was born. Embroidered around the circle that marks her birth city is a symbol for twins. Gina fled Poland during the Second World War, but the rest of her family remained and were killed, including her older twin sisters. She speaks fondly and acutely of her parents and sisters, who she has not seen for over seventy years.
Gina used to embroider a lot. She embroidered the seat of the dining chair that she is sitting on and matching seats for the rest of the set. It took her three years. She would do it whenever she got a chance. She liked it best on trains, as it was a conversation piece to share with strangers.
Behind Gina, to her right, sits a photograph of her late husband and napkins, like the ones he would produce in his paper company. Having met in Poland, they married in England and stayed. Along the window sill sit babushka dolls like the ones Gina played with as a girl; there are four, aligned together, to mark her as the head of four living generations: she has three children, six grandchildren and eleven great-grand children.
Upon the table lie thirteen cards, a bridge hand; Gina has played the game for many years. There is a also a key with a room number. Gina co-owned an executive hotel in London with some friends, but they later sold it on. The number 1919 is the year of her birth.
Gina is 95 years old in this picture and still lives by herself in her own flat. She is a lively and funny woman who happily takes compliments, as long as they are not followed by for your age.