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By Jessica McDermott

The story behind a photo

By Jessica McDermott

 Gina (from the series Recollection), by Jessica McDermott

Gina (from the series Recollection), by Jessica McDermott

Gina (from the series Recollection), by Jessica McDermott

INFO

This image is the result of six months of conversation and 95 years of living.

The portrait is of Gina, her favourite flowers are lilies. She has befriended the concierge in her building, who regularly brings her fresh flowers whenever they over order for the front desk.

Beside Gina sits a cushion, which marks the outline of Poland and Warsaw, the city where she was born. Embroidered around the circle that marks her birth city is a symbol for twins. Gina fled Poland during the Second World War, but the rest of her family remained and were lost to the war, including her older twin sisters. She speaks fondly and acutely of her parents and sisters, who she has not seen for over seventy years.

Gina used to embroider a lot. She embroidered the seat of the dining chair that she is sat upon and matching seats for the rest of the set. It took her three years. She would do it whenever she got a chance. She liked it best on trains, as it was a conversation piece to share with strangers.

Behind Gina, to her right, sits a photograph of her late husband and napkins, like the ones he would produce in his paper company. Having met in Poland, they married in England and stayed. Along the window sill sit babushka dolls like the ones Gina played with as a girl; there are four, aligned together, to mark her as the head of four living generations: she has three children, six grandchildren and eleven great-grand children.

Upon the table lie thirteen cards, a bridge hand; Gina has played the game for many years. There is a also a key with a room number. Gina co-owned an executive hotel in London with some friends, but they later sold it on. The number 1919 is the year of her birth.

Gina is 95 years old in this picture and still lives by herself in her own flat. She is a lively and funny woman who happily takes compliments, as long as they are not followed by for your age.

Earlier this year, I began visiting elderly people with dementia, with the intention of telling their life story as best I can in a single image. It is a collaboration reliant on their recollection to create a legacy of a life, as remembered by the person who lived it, before the details slowly flicker from beyond their reach.

Jessica McDermott is a freelance photographer


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