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  • Jon Longworth

My Masters Project (Hopefully)

During my second year at Huddersfield University, I developed a project, of which some of the photos can be found on here titled 'Slow Burn'. The project was one of those things that you feel like there is an absolute necessity to do it, that you have the one opportunity to do something and that if you miss this chance then it is not going to come up again.

That is what 'Slow Burn' was to me. The project attempted to focus on my late grandmother, who for the last 10 or so years, had been suffering from slowly worsening dementia. It was late stage dementia, so there really wasn't anything left to do to help ease the transition, since she was already there. My mothers family originate from the Republic of Ireland, so whilst she had visited yearly to see her mother, the rest of the family, who had other commitments, were not able to see her at such a high frequency. The last time I saw her was in the August of 2013 during her 80th Birthday, during which we noticed little occurrences which only hinted at her dementia. It annoys me to look back at now. As a thirteen year old boy, you're still at that stage where you're not grown up enough to be involved with all of internal drama that unfolds, and you're not old enough to drink either, so you're just surrounded by drunk Irish people, who you're still years off of connecting with emotionally.

I was originally going to go see her in November sometime, but without realising, my passport had expired, and the wait on getting a new one was too long. Luckily, Ireland is one of the few places that does not need a passport (depending on your airline), so a drivers licence functions just as well. However, the airline we decided to fly with was Ryanair, which is I think, the only company who don't accept the drivers licence as a legitimate document. This resulted in me missing the trip to Ireland.

When we went in March, COVID was just starting to become a thing. Ireland had had one reported case of it in the country, which resulted in access to all care homes being banned to members of the public, which meant that we weren't allowed to go see my grandmother. The project aimed to document how the family had handled my nanas worsening health and how it had impacted them on an emotional level, but when we got there, I realised something so fundamental it completely changed my perception of it. They had lived with this. Everyday for the last seven years. This wasn't new or scary to them. It was simply the reality that they experienced.

I still had these preconceptions that we were all the same people that we were seven years ago, that my relationship would still be the same as it was. But it wasn't. Everyone was different, including me. Throughout 'Slow Burn', it became less focused on my grandmother, but rather more focused on familial ties, our connection to that, and the overall responsibility that we had to preserve these memories of someone that we all held so dear. We had the one uniting factor and that is what I wanted to depict. We all had a responsibility to learn about this piece of history that we all stemmed from, developing a character, an identity from these experiences. Despite the fact that it was the family that sorted through this, on a deeper level it felt like the country itself. Ireland is a place that is so proud of its heritage. It's an identity, the great uniter of these people.

When my nan passed away in November of last year, because of the guidelines, none of us were able to go, as much as we wanted to. We watched the ceremony over live stream, which let us witness those final moments but I don't know if anyone who reads this (if anyone reads it at all) knows, but it doesn't equate in the slightest.

I don't think I can speak for everyone in my family, but personally, I think there is a lot of guilt that has come from this. Obviously there shouldn't be, since it wasn't our choice not to go and it was all really out of our control, but nonetheless, I think it's the idea of knowing that is what we wanted to do, but didn't. There has been a halting in grief I think. Because there is the knowledge that we will go over to Ireland and we will finally pay our respects eventually, I personally have gotten to a certain stage of grief in which I can accept what has happened, but I don't think it's over yet. There needs to be that closure for everyone.

Essentially, (we're finally at the proposal) I aim to photograph the visit, which would start in the North of the Republic and eventually work its way down to the South where she is buried. Like previously stated, I think that whilst we might not acknowledge it, there is a deep connection with the Ireland, and I want to use that landscape as a canvas to discuss a set of more personal topics of discussion. As a person, I believe it is very important to talk through your issues, your sadness and your grief and I want to use this as a chance to understand how this event has effected us emotionally. To just encapsulate what I want to focus on, I want to use this project to discuss the topics of life, death and grief. For all we know, it may not go in this direction at all. If 'Slow Burn' taught me anything, is that there needs to be preparation for doing something completely off the schedule, but that is the general base of the project and where I want to take it.

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