Leckhampton Court patient Jim peering through the arm holders of a fellow patient’s crutches
A photo captured by a patient at our Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice has been selected posthumously by Dying Matters as one of a winning group of images to go on a special tour across the country to help bust myths on dying.
Retired Photographer Richard Smiles attended our Leckhampton Court Day Hospice, and was encouraged to take up his camera to undertake a photo-documentary project of his experiences there by the hospice's Creative Therapies Coordinator, Amabel Mortimer.
One of his photos, of fellow patient Jim peering through the arm holders of a fellow patient’s crutches, was entered into the Dying Matters Photography Competition, ‘Celebrating Life in the Face of Death’.
Organised by Dying Matters, part of the National Council for Palliative Care that provides information and support to help people start conversations about death and bereavement, the national competition invited submissions of photos showing a memory or moment, a representation of a life-changing experience or depicted community spirit.
Richard’s photograph is one of the winning photographs that will go on a national touring exhibition, along with other winning images, to help break down the taboos surrounding dying and death.
This photograph was taken by Richard, a patient in Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice Cheltenham, of fellow patient, Jim. Showing the lighter side of living with illness. Richard Smiles.
"Richard was a reluctant patient and at first was not sure about picking up his camera again," Amabel said. "I spoke with him about how photographing his experience of the hospice could perhaps go some way to make sense of where he was, and help himself and others who were equally nervous about attending the day hospice to feel less worried.
"He took some great photos. This was a really personal battle for him as he was very frail or fatigued some weeks, but he was so determined and the resulting photographs are amazing," she continued.
"Richard bound the photos he had taken into a special photo book for us. We now use this book as part of our first assessment visit with new patients to help dispel some of the fears they may have about coming here. It is an amazing legacy," concluded Amabel.
"This has challenged my sanity, yet kept me sane at the same time"
Richard wrote a forward to his photo book, which read as follows: "I’d not held a camera for nine months. I came in and decided to give it a try. I sat nervously and watched people chatting, then picked up my camera, and - snap! - then there was no stopping me! Especially as people had no objections - in fact, it brought me closer to them.
"I’ve pushed myself to the limit on this project. I’ve had days when I’ve felt grotty, but I’ve said to myself ‘I am going to do this’. It’s hard to say but, this has challenged my sanity, yet kept me sane at the same time.
"The staff and other patients in the Day Hospice are absolutely brilliant. So Amabel's project turned out to be the best idea. It made my stay here so enjoyable; I found I couldn’t wait to go every Friday!"
The judges were spoilt for choice
"It has been a really challenging and exciting competition," said Claire Henry, Chief Executive of Dying Matters. "We had a lot of great entries, and it was hard for the judges to produce a shortlist. Everyone who entered was making a very personal statement about the death of someone dear to them, and so, in the end, the judges decided against choosing one single 'best photo'.
"Instead they want to let the 12 images stand as a selection of fantastic images, which together celebrate life and challenge us about how we respond to death and grief."
The twelve were chosen out of 90 entries, and were first displayed at a reception at the House of Lords for the 25th anniversary of the National Council for Palliative Care.
Amabel adds, "I hope Richard’s words and photo of Jim, who he became firm friends with, illustrate the importance of interaction with the arts in end of life care. It offers a powerful opportunity for people to make friendships, tell stories, find some resilience and perhaps make some sense of their illness."
View all the winning photos at dyingmatters.org