"Every 65 seconds, a new brain develops Alzheimer’s" (Bob and Diane Fund)
This series tells the life of Fritz Dressler (1937-2020), a landscape and travel photographer who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease during the last years of his life. Dressler was formerly a Professor of Photography and Moving Images at the University of the Arts in Bremen, Germany. Before the onset of his dementia, Dressler resided in the artist village of Worpswede for more than 40 years. He was known for his influential and creative personality.
In 2016, I met Fritz Dressler at a photo festival in his home village in Northern Germany. For my personal development as a photographer this was a life changing meeting. Over the course of two and a half years I photographed Fritz in his house and his village. I had the chance to spend most of my time alone with Fritz, which is something very rare considering that I was not his partner nor a family member. That is why the “facts”, sorrows and joys of Fritz’s life were conveyed to me mainly by himself. For me, this opened an undisguised view into his diminishing world. Permission to photograph him was given by his children; Fritz never had intellectual insight into my actions and motifs. He was nevertheless always my irresistible emotional counterpart. I became completely committed to the emotional reality of my charismatic protagonist: his intensity, vulnerability and resilience define the portraits of his soul.
What had originally begun as a documentary on living with Alzheimer’s transformed into an emotional reflection on challenging stereotypes about this disease by emphasizing ’ability not disability’. Falling back on taking pictures himself, however demanding the technique, reassured Fritz of his identity.
Inspired by the lecture of "Alzheimer’s from the Inside Out“ by Richard Taylor, the first Alzheimer’s activist who was affected himself, and by the writings of Michael Schmieder, one of the most influential dementia pioneers and ethical experts in Germany and Switzerland, it is my ambition to spark a compassionate dialogue in society about issues concerning more respect, participation and empowerment towards people affected with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
By the time Fritz and me met, he was no longer able to call his illness by its name, but could only resignedly acknowledge, "Actually, I don’t know anything anymore." But his self-awareness – as someone who saw himself as an artist and thus preserved his presence – was still very much alive:
"I am not dead, I’m still walking!"