Photographer of the Netherlands: Robin de Puy – Jan

Robin de Puy – Jan

What is it like when your memory starts faltering, when you can’t remem- ber who or where you are and your grasp of reality starts slipping? The great-uncle
of Robin de Puy has Alzheimer’s disease. He is 81 years old and has been living in Denmark since the 1960s, he has a Danish wife. De Puy describes her uncle Jan Mallan as an intelligent, headstrong man with an unstoppable urge to live, to learn, to know. ‘A man who loves his surroundings, his wife, and life.’

But Jan increasingly fails to manage basic daily chores. Sometimes it seems he is stuck in a loop, repeating the same motions, asking the same questions. De Puy: ‘I’m scared of losing him, scared that the disease will take his identity.’ But she also observes that when he claps his hands to chase away invisible sheep, picks a wilted flower to give to the love of his life, laughs about a crumbling cookie or weeps for his memories of World War II, it’s like layers are being peeled away and her uncle shows his deepest core. ‘You would expect him to become less like himself, but in fact, the opposite is true,’ she says.

Robin de Puy is a much awarded portrait photographer (the Netherlands, 1986) and this year’s Photographer Laureate. For Fotoweek and BredaPhoto she made an intimate portrait of her uncle in black and white photos. Cameraman Maarten van Rossem filmed his language (a mixture of Danish and Dutch) and gestures.