When his father, Gene, entered a nursing home in 2004, Stephen DiRado saw photography as a way to connect — and to document Gene’s mental, emotional, and physical state as he fought the disease. During his thrice-weekly visits, DiRado, a professor of practice at Clark University, used his camera to provide an intimate look at the family dynamics of caregiving and the passing of time.
The resulting images comprise “With Dad,” a photo series that has been awarded the Bob and Diane Fund Grant for visual storytellers on stories about Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. DiRado’s work was selected from a field of 58 submissions from 18 countries; the entries were evaluated by a panel of esteemed photojournalists from National Geographic, Getty Images, and National Public Radio (NPR).
“The work brings softness, dignity, respect and tenderness to people living with Alzheimer’s,” said Chip Somodevilla, senior photographer for Getty Images News. “Stephen is very conscious of the string that ties all the images together.”
DiRado viewed the project as a way of coping. “With each advancing stage of his disease,” he explains, “I had to find the courage to continue making meaningful documents of Dad.”
In a statement accompanying “With Dad” on his website, DiRado writes, “Most of my life I have been documenting family through photographs. It is ritual accepted without prejudice and my way to empathetically connect. In the case of my father succumbing to Alzheimer’s over a spread of twenty years, my determination to persistently photograph the man I love reluctantly evolved into my eventual acceptance of an incomprehensible disease.”
DiRado plans to use the $5,000 Bob and Diane Fund prize to publish a photo book of the series. Currently, he is using his camera to document his mother, Rose, and her life since Gene’s death in 2009. Her story is an epilogue to Gene’s, he says, and demonstrates that life endures long after the role of the caretaker ends.
“With Dad” first came into the public spotlight through a series of lectures presented by DiRado, supported by a research project grant from the Higgins School of Humanities at Clark University. In fall 2017, NPR interviewed DiRado and published a podcast, “Stephen DiRado’s Holding On To The Man In The Mirror — Tracking Alzheimer’s Through Image.” The series also has caught the attention of director and producer Soren Sorenson, visiting professor of Screen Studies at Clark University, who created a 30-minute documentary, scheduled to be released in 2019.
Stephen DiRado’s work can be found in museum collections across the country, including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, Mass.; and the Currier Museum, Manchester, N.H. He has exhibited one-person shows in many galleries and museums, including, most recently, “Steven DiRado’s Embrace, a retrospect, 1983-2017,” at the University of New Hampshire Museum of Art in Durham, N.H.
The Bob and Diane Fund is dedicated to promoting awareness of Alzheimer’s and dementia-related diseases. Launched in June 2016 by Gina Martin, whose mother, Diane, succumbed to Alzheimer’s after a five-year battle, the organization aims to bring visual understanding and dialogue to a disease that has been in the shadows for far too long.