Wow. Look where the time has gone. Six months go by a lot faster knowing you’re going to have to leave behind a part of your life you only just became aquatinted with. Last Friday was our last official day of classes for the international photo 1 program at DMJX, concluding with two days of feedback from our professor over our classes’ final projects.
I don’t think anyone in our class took the easy way out in the projects they chose and I think everyone did a final project to challenge themself. I set out to do a story centered around Bjarke Mousten-Nielsen, a 13-year-old boy in Aarhus with developmental disabilities (in the autistic spectrum.) and the family that supports him. I knew I wanted to do a story like this so I improve at shooting stills and so I could have a concrete photo story. When asking myself why we should care about a story like this I would say because it begs the question of how much time we spend with our kids and when we need to let them go. In Bjarke’s case it takes some mental/ physical work and loving care for his family to raise him. But eventually he will grow bigger and his family will have to in a sense move on and move him into a full-time institution. When I interviewed the parents they told me something that put the story into context for me:
“Well we had one normal and one not normal. It’s not nice. There’s an enourmas amount of sadness connected with it. Still is actually. Yeah it’s as easy as that, it’s something you have to do (raise him). Actually the debate ends there. So it’s as easy as that.”
I knew then the story shouldn’t be about saying, ‘Oh look how sad this is and how hard the family is working.’ It’s just about being a family. Yes they have difficulties other families might not have but they’re doing what any family would do. “It’s something you have to do.”
Visually I think my story ended up being more of portrait series on Bjarke in order to create the strongest visual story. I might edit the selection later to include more moments with the family but for now I’m happy with it.
I can’t thank the family enough for letting me spend the time I had with them and letting me document something so personal to them. I mean when I first met them at the ice-rink in February for my first assignment they were so gracious enough to let me photograph them and take me back to there home without my asking.
Anyway, here is my final selection of stills along with the magazine layout I presented to class:
Bjarke sits on a couch at home, listening to a musical game show. He’s been watching this same TV program for the past two years. “He’s strongly repitive in his behavior,” Birthe says, “and it gives him a satisfaction to be occupied with something he already knows.”
Bjarke sits in the backyard as his father and brother try to encourage him to ride a tandem tricycle for a family bike ride. Though he mostly doesn’t like to be outside, Birthe says once he is riding the bike he enjoys it.
Birthe and Bjarke share a moment of embrace on the bathroom floor after finally getting on Bjarke’s last article of clothing on. “With children like him they say he’s a child within the autistic spectrum,” Birthe says. “People who are placed within this category have behaviors and different, well skills and lack of skills. They’re not all the same, which is one of the common misunderstandings actually.”
Whlie at school, Bjarke lays down on the ground as an educator tries to get him interested in the day’s education exercise. When learning new things Birthe says he has to be introduced over and over. “But it’s not the same thing as he doesn’t like it all,” Birthe says. After four or five years of working with puzzles at the school Birthe says he like now likes doing them.
When Bjarke is away from home, whether at school or the institution, his parents have a journal for whoever is with Bjarke to write about their day with Bjarke.
Carl hugs Bjarke while visiting him at the institution. As Bjarke has aged, the time he spends away from his family at the institution has increased from a few days a week to now every other week. “It’s an issue we can only decide partly because its paid by the municipality so we’ve got to have a grant to have him at the institution.”
Bjarke runs through the house to get his toys to bring back to the bathroom while the family’s social worker get’s Bjarke ready for bed.
The family goes on a bike ride to a near-by lake on the weekend. Once Bjarke turns 18 he will live in a different institution full-time. Even so, Birthe says they would always be able to take Bjarke home for a weekend if they want to.
Bjarke searches for toys in his room. The bunk-bed which Bjarke and Sigurd used to share remains though Sigurd now has his own room on the other side of the house. Though twins Birthe says there wasn’t ever really a relationship between the two boys. “They live in parallel worlds,” Birthe says. “With the small addition once in a while when Sigurd has this brotherly feeling where he helps Bjarke and wants to take care of him.”
The family sits on the couch in one of the rooms of the house for a portrait. Having Bjarke separated from the family every other week is something Birthe say’s the family has gotten used to. “Think of a family where one of the parents for instance is a business person and is away all the time, “ Birthe says. “I mean it’s fairly easy once you get used to it and that’s just the way it is.”
Click the image to read the pdf version of my story layout: