The Photographer Who Captured His Grandmother’s Death To Challenge Memory
January 10, 2017|Geovanni M
Yael Martinez Velazquez was born in 1984. He’s been a part of several workshops in his native Oaxaca, Mexico. El Olvido, Oblivion, his first project, captures his Grandmother Carmen’s fight against Alzheimer’s. This illness devoured her little by little, until all that was left of her memory were fragments remembered by family members and the images taken by her grandson.
“Every Friday when I was a kid, my sister Miriam and I would go stay over at my grandmother’s. My sister would sleep in a bed with my aunt and I would stay with my grandmother. I can still remember the peculiar scent of my grandmother’s bed. We’d fall asleep telling stories or singing. These were the last memories that would come to mind during the last stage of her illness.”
Martinez’s images reflect the cruelty of a world where forgetting becomes the main activity. Oblivion takes over the alphabet and dictionary of our minds. This illness begins by snatching names, then faces, and continues until there’s nothing. Silence is oblivion.
His work has made Martinez winner of the 2011 and 2013 FONCA Young Creators Scholarship as well as other awards. His images are exhibited at the Contemporary Art Museum of Aguascalientes and the National Sound Archive.
“The last few months of my grandmother’s life I felt like she was trying to create a world of memory that would anchor her to ours. She rarely recognized me during that time (…) There were some instances where I saw brief instances of lucidity, where her memories were fresh and she could connect with us…”
The images also include objects that belonged to his grandmother: a couch, a set of rooms, trunks, and windows that will never recover the essence that filled them with life. The existence where fingers, feet, words, and a particular, heartfelt glance once stood. Moments part of a lost battle. The illness took everything with it like a black hole.
Maria del Carmen Mejia passed away at the age of 64. Yet she lives on in the portraits of Yael. They all speak of the look of a woman who would tuck him in when he was young. “This series is a representation of the development of my maternal grandmother’s illness (…) worrying about death led me to create this document as a way to assimilate, confront, and discern the end of life’s natural process.”
Maria del Carmen passed away and her illness died with her. Yet there is still a part of her that continues to live on through her memory and that of those who loved her.
If you’re interested in discovering more about Yael’s work, check out his page.
Translated by María Suárez