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Monday, 1 February 2010

Jennie Gunhammar: Lupus and Parkinson's

I had the pleasure of speaking to Michael Diemar (of Diemar and Noble) last week. He mentioned how he was interested in photography with feeling, that doesn't just replicate overworked themes for the purpose of wall decoration. "There should be a personal investment in the image-making. It’s not just about getting an idea and photographing it. It’s about being part of the idea and feeling it – and making something people can believe in."
His and Laura Noble's gallery opened last year and the first show was Jennie Gunhammar's Somewhere I have never travelled gladly beyond.

This was a portrayal of Jennie Gunhammar's twin sister and her partner, who both had incurable, degenerative diseases; Lupus and Parkinson's Disease respectively. Sadly, Jennie died soon after the show. Michael Diemar gives a moving tribute here.

Jennie had been suffering from lupus since 2002. Jessie, her identical twin sister, was diagnosed with the same illness in 2004. Lupus attacks the immune system and is incurable. Lupus charities receive far less funding than other well-known diseases such as cancer, due to lack of public awareness. Lupus often goes undiagnosed as the symptoms can be extremely varied. Weight loss is common and the first time I met Jennie I was shocked by how thin she was. Jennie was always very straight forward, a Swedish trait she was proud of and when meeting new people would explain "I have lupus" so as not to be mistaken for being anorexic. While she was thin and frail she was also extremely beautiful, and she had the grace of a renaissance queen. I soon discovered that she also had a will of iron and an absolute sense of purpose, namely her photography.

I had fallen in love with Jennie's photographs long before I met her. They were images from a project called "somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond" (published in a book by Damiani), a moving portrait of Jessie and Stan, a Parkinson's disease sufferer, their lives together, the love and tenderness between them but also the difficulties and the pain they had to live with. They are remarkable images, beautiful, sensitive but also unflinching in their honesty. Honesty was the most important thing to Jennie when making images, far more than any notion of art.

Art was an extremely serious matter for Jennie and she abhorred photography that was mere eye candy. Art was for her about a total investment of herself, her emotions and sensibility.
Read the whole article here. 

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