Tag Archives: black and white photography

My Mother’s Journey with Alzheimer’s: A Family Portrait

Greta and Herb Levart Meng Po / Goddess on Earth www.Goddessonearth.com

I haven’t seen the film “Still Alice” because my mother has Alzheimer’s disease.

While she slips away into the advanced stages of this ferocious illness, I can’t watch anything that illustrates the journey my family is on. Nonetheless, I applaud one outcome from the film; it is illuminating this “neglected epidemic”.

Maria Shriver in her recent piece “Help Me Wipe Out Alzhemer’s Now” shared these terrifying statistics:

“Every 67 seconds, another one of us develops Alzheimer’s. Women in their 60’s are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as breast cancer. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, there will be 13.5 million of us with Alzheimer’s by 2050.”

And there is more: Alzheimer’s is “the most expensive disease in the nation and the only leading cause of death in the U.S. with no way to prevent, stop or even slow its progression” according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Now, add the enormous repercussions it has on the loved one’s families. If you really wrap your mind around this, it can take your breath away. That I can attest to.

First let me share a few of my tangible moments of beauty and grace while navigating this barbed path. I felt great joy watching my mother dance along the Hudson River as I photographed her as a Goddess; shared laughs when she emerged from her bedroom in an especially creative combination of clothes; experienced true love when her face lit up as I entered a room; let tears run down my cheeks as her kisses caressed the back of my hand; and believed my heart grew when I murmured “I love you” in her ear, moments before she fell asleep in her nursing home bed.

Alzheimer’s is having a crushing impact on my family as well. We see savings dwindle from paying for her constant care; careers put on hold to manage her daily medications, physical demands, and energetic wanderings (that often led to a visit with the local police); grandchildren no longer remembering her as the determined, fiercely positive woman she once was; and perhaps worst of all, her beloved husband of sixty-seven years, now guilt ridden and lonely because he can no longer care for her at their home for over half a century.

Greta and Herb Levart Meng Po / Goddess on Earth www.Goddessonearth.com

Five years ago, I photographed my mother (and father) for Goddess on Earth as Meng Po, the Chinese Goddess of Forgetfulness. This sacred myth tells us that as a soul prepares to be reborn, the Goddess Meng Po serves her tea of forgetfulness. Instantly cleared of the knowledge of past lives, Meng Po allows the soul to be made anew and the cycle of life continues.

My mother’s memory wasn’t purged in an instant but in a slow, relentless march toward oblivion. To accompany her Meng Po portrait she had written;

My memory is not what it used to be. I do forget and I do not remember everything. But my life is rich with daily, weekly, yearly experiences with my husband, my children, my grandchildren and my friends.”

Today, she would not even be able to write her own name. But she is still Greta.

Greta and Herb Levart Meng Po / Goddess on Earth www.Goddessonearth.com

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New Goddess Sketches

For the past decade, I have traveled throughout the world-photographing women embodying Goddesses. These Goddess Portraits have been a unique opportunity for women to explore, identify and celebrate an ancient archetype and its relevance to their contemporary lives.

Goddess Sketches condense the creative process to under 15-minutes, and was developed with conferences in mind. These quick portraits include a short consultation (Find Your Goddess) and a photo session in an on-site photography studio. Here is a taste of what can be co-created!

artemisA Cybele Goddess SketchesAnna_Gaia Goddess on Earth Mnemosyne Goddess Sketch Amelia Martin Eos Goddess Sketch

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The Real Goddesses of Essex County

Luna Stage, a professional theater in West Orange, New Jersey planned to honor three extraordinary women in their Essex County community during Women’s History Month. Galas, legacy lunches and award presentations are standard affairs for most non-profits, but Luna Stage was thinking outside the box. They chose instead to commission goddess portraits of their honorees.

To me, a goddess is a woman living her life with authenticity, passion and power. Inspired and inspiring, a goddess—on earth— speaks her truth and stands up for what she believes. A goddess on earth has vitality and is beautiful, not because her cheekbones are high, her waist is thin, her breasts are large or her wardrobe is current, but because she recognizes her inner divinity — imperfections and all.

Thus a theater, named for the artistic and spiritual importance of the moon in women’s lives, reached out to me: an artist who has spent the last 12 years exploring, identifying and celebrating ancient archetypes and their relevance to our hectic, contemporary lives. Was I interested in creating Goddess portraits of three empowered New Jersey women as their most beautiful and alive selves? Bada bing, bada boom. You betcha!

Suzzanne Douglas, award winning actress and jazz vocalist, is a fervent activist bringing creative expression into the educational system. Although widely known for her starring roles in the TV show The Parent’Hood, the Hollywood film How Stella Got her Groove Back and the Broadway show The Tap Dance Kid, amongst others, her driving passion now is working with schools to help them incorporate the arts into their curriculum. To Suzzanne, the arts are a critical tool for children to learn a fundamental life lesson she herself embraces: “One must live life on purpose with a purpose.”

For her portrait, Suzzanne chose to embody Minerva, the Roman Goddess of wisdom, whose symbol is an owl. Minerva is also considered warrior goddess; a protectress of the arts; and an overseer of intellectual activity.

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Suzzanne wrote:

“Like Minerva, I have always considered myself a guardian of the arts — one who advocates, protects and cares for the many forms of creative expression that inform and influence humanity. The late Jimi Hendrix said, “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” From my work in front of and behind the scenes, wisdom drives me to approach all tasks with a spirit of excellence knowing that the arts have the power to change humanity and thus our world”.

Cameron Boyle, along with her daughter Giovanna, has run a small NGO namedCRIANSA (the Portuguese word for child) in two fishing villages in Brazil for the past 10 years. Based on the simple premise of connecting children through a decade long pen pal exchange, CRIANSA has built lasting bonds between children in these remote villages south of the Equator and students in affluent Montclair, New Jersey. By fostering deep friendships between these diverse communities, CRIANSA is planting seeds of transformation, one child at a time.

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Cameron and Giovanna chose to portray the Brazilian Goddess Iemanjá for theirGoddess on Earth portrait. They wrote:

“We are a symbiotic mother-daughter incarnation of Iemanjá, the Afro-Brazilian Goddess of the sea. After working closely together in Brazil over the last ten summers, Iemanjá has infused us with a mutually maternal and nurturing spirit. She gives us her vision, inspiration and the ability to flow smoothly through life’s torrential times.”

Diana Moise is a 12-year-old middle school student who came to Essex County after her home was destroyed during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. 2014-02-24-Erzulie_GoddessonEarthA.jpgShe has struggled with language barriers and has had to overcome multiple surgeries for scoliosis, but her inner fortitude is apparent to all. When deciding what sacred myth most resonated with her, Diana commented with the heartfelt confidence of a pre-pubescent girl that Erzulie, the Haitian spirit/goddess of women “is beautiful — and so am I”.

Minerva, Iemanjá, and Erzulie remind us there are many ways to live inspired lives of authenticity, passion and internal power. Some women embrace their intellect; others connect with their communal, nurturing spirit; and others innately know how to dig deep into their own personal wells of strength. What an honor it is to have been commissioned to create goddess portraits of these exceptional women. Please join me in celebrating them, and all the remarkable women we know, in as many creative, inspired and unique ways as there are goddesses on earth.

Goddess on Earth: Women of Essex County, a multimedia immersion installation, opens March 8th at Luna Stage, West Orange, N.J. and runs through May 11th. Please visit www.lunastage.org for viewing hours.

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