Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

PatriciaVanishing Mother

Ellen Jantzen

I normally deal with issues of reality in my artwork. I am intrigued with what is real, what is imagined. Are dreams real? Is what one sees, hears, and feels real? Aren’t elements of the world flavored and altered by one’s own emotional makeup and history?

With all of this in mind, I was drawn to the reality of my mother-in-law’s mental state as she slips into dementia. I created a series of images depicting my mother-in-law, Patricia Jantzen, as she goes about her daily business while suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. I have titled the photo essay “Patricia – Vanishing Mother.”

Patricia’s dementia follows the gradual (and sometimes not so gradual) disappearing of her “person” as her world grows smaller and smaller and she retreats more and more from the larger world. Her confusion and difficulty speaking are especially striking. Words continually fail her.

I have tried to capture her frustration and confusion along with her real humanity and sense of humor. By using computer software to alter the initial photos I took of her, I have been able to adjust the transparency giving Patricia the appearance of disappearing into her background. I did this by photographing her in a given scene, then repeating the shoot with her removed. By combining two or more photos I was also able to show her altering states of reality.

Through this decline, Patricia does keep her sense of humor and her good nature. I have attempted to capture some of this aspect of her in the photos.

No Mail
Her isolation is evident in No Mail
but her humor is intact.

No Mail – (2009)
16”H x 12”W
Archival inkjet on heavyweight matte paper
Conversation shows Patricia trying to
communicate with her son, Michael, on
the deck of the home he designed
and built for her about 30 years ago.
Conversation – (2009)
18”H x 12”W
Archival inkjet on heavyweight matte paper
Fractured Conversation
Fractured Conversation shows both Patricia’s
distress and a glimpse of her former self as
she talks with her son.
Fractured Conversation – (2009)
12”H x 18”W
Archival inkjet on heavyweight matte paper
Memories features the lilacs Patricia so loves as
she animates a memory with gesture and humor.
Memories – (2009)
12″H x 18″W
Archival inkjet on heavyweight matte paper
Lilacs are memory plants that help Patricia to
keep in touch with the past as she tries to deal
with her life today.
Lilacs – (2009)
14”H x 12”W
Archival inkjet on heavyweight matte paper
Vanishing Mother with Son
Vanishing Mother with Son shows the
love of life Patricia still has. Her son
tries to hold on before she slips away.
Vanishing Mother with Son – (2009)
18”H x 12”
WArchival inkjet on heavyweight matte paper

I am a bystander and part of the family at the same time. There is a great mutual love between Patricia and me, but I cannot fully comprehend what it feels to be losing a mother as Michael and his siblings can. I was only in my early 20’s when Michael and I met; so I have no early history with Patricia. This allows me to stand back a bit and view the situation with some objectivity. I hope to convey in my photos both the tragedy of Alzheimer’s Disease and the opportunity of highlighting the humanity and dignity of a person with this disease.

ELLEN JANTZEN was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, but moved to Illinois after meeting her husband, Michael. During her early college years, she studied the graphic arts. Upon graduation she and Michael settled down on acreage in Southern Illinois and set about to construct several solar and energy efficient structures, including their 2400 square foot home. Organic gardens and goat husbandry took center stage in Ellen’s life, but a desire for a more “artistic” life led the couple to Los Angeles, California.

Ellen spent two years at FIDM (the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) in downtown Los Angeles. Here, she obtained her advanced degree in 1992. After a few years working in the industry, she became disillusioned with the corporate world and longed for a more creative outlet. Having been trained in computer design, Ellen continued her training on her own using mostly Photoshop software. As digital technology advanced and the newer cameras were producing excellent resolution, Ellen found her perfect medium. It was a confluence of technical advancements and creative desire that culminated in her current explorations in photography, using both a camera to capture staged assemblages and a computer to alter and manipulate the pieces. Not considering herself a photographer but an image-maker, Ellen has been creating works that bridge the world of prints, photography and collage.

Ellen is being recognized as an innovator, and her work has been shown in galleries and museums world-wide as well as numerous web-based sites. You can see more of her work at http://www.ellenjantzen.com/

Highlighted in Frontispiece Volume 1, Issue 5 – Fall 2009

Fall 2009



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