On Loss: The decisions we make with our elderly

Over the last year and a half I have been included in decision making processes that most American adults go through at twice my age — choosing care for the elderly and dying. It is a terrible position to be in. One wracked with guilt, shame, loneliness, and grief. It’s a separating position to be sure.

Choosing outside care ultimately means that you are not the one providing for your loved one. In some moments your decision might be played off as survival — the ability to provide for your immediate family or to live your life, in other moments the decision seems like selfishness. No matter what you do there is always an opportunity cost, a loss.

These choices are hard. I don’t have answers. But I have a view of loss that I would like to share with you in hopes that you can make different decisions.

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These pictures are of my grandmother Dorothy. She lost her husband around 2001 and a few years later she checked herself into an assisted care facility. She has been in assisted care for over 10 years at the time of writing this. Currently she is in a facility for Dementia & Alzheimer’s patients. Dorothy no longer remembers who I am, what year it is, or to my best guess much of anything beyond the 1980’s.

Everyday Dorothy receives care and is surrounded by people in the facility, but she is alone caught in her own world. So much so that when I show up with an ice cream for Dorothy to eat she doesn’t understand that it’s for her, or that there’s a spoon in it, or that I’m her grandson, or that she’s been alone for a week.

The situation is terrible. Her memory is growing faint, much of it lost altogether. But what’s worse is that I am losing the ability to be with her, talk with her, and know her. This is travesty.

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Before her decline, the facilities, and the diseases, Dorothy lived a full life. She is now 91. Let me share a little bit of her life that I know.

Dorothy was part of the ‘speeders’ in high school, graduating at just 16 years old. She lived through the Great Depression, raised two boys, and worked outside the home during a time when most women didn’t. Dorothy lived during much of the modern history that is now being taught in schools.

From a young Dorothy had pride in her alma matter — I found a football program where she religiously recorded the scores of the Friday games. She loved poetry and would often quote The Raven by Poe. She was married three times, divorced once, unfortunately surviving the other two. In more recent times, I would describe her demeanor as the Queen of England, she loved to be pampered. Dorothy also loves company — a socialite in the 1950’s — now because she is losing her memory, a bright smile will jump to her face if she recognizes she is receiving attention. She is now, in many ways, childlike.

As I write this what haunts me is that most of my last 20 years with her are forgotten. I have two paragraphs summing up her life. This is true loss.

So my encouragement to you is that when you choose care, you remain an active participant in your loved one’s life. Please question and document, write, record, photograph and share. Their lives visited are lessons learned. Their lives shared bring the fruits of compassion, love, empathy, and understanding.

I would love to hear stories of your loved ones, see pictures, and share in your moments. Feel free to shoot me an email at sethnenstiel [at] gmail [dot] com. Or get in touch by clicking here.

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Nikki – Senior Photos York, PA

Another incredible evening spent photographing in the city of York. Downtown is a trove of beautiful buildings, light, and opportunities for great pictures. I joined Nikki downtown to create her senior photos. Nikki is an artist, photographer, singer, and dedicated student. Hope you have an amazing senior year!

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Finding Voice: Parkway

Coming off of the biggest month of my photographic career, I am struggling a little bit. One because I know I am going to wrap up some loose ends this week and head off into a week of vacation, and two, because I need to find my voice. I’ve been working very hard on a big commercial shoot, a wedding, and a few other sets of images. In a few minutes I will be running out the door to photograph some editorial photos for a startup magazine. Sometimes it’s great, but sometimes I want to get in touch with things that are a little bit more real.

Enter where I live. My wife & I moved into Parkway, a neighborhood in north York. We love the people, we love our apartment, and we really want to spend the next couple of years getting to know our neighbors and making the neighborhood great. But it’s not without its own problems. Just over a month and a half ago there was a shooting outside our building. Talk about raw and gritty. And if you would segment our neighborhood by a main thoroughfare, the half of the population that lives to the north of the dividing road, that’s 50%, is living in poverty.

It’s tough to maintain a steady pace of pushing your work out to agencies, systematizing, keeping your head down, making photo books, and seeking testimonials when this is the reality around you. People may ask, ‘Why do you live there? Can’t you afford somewhere better?’ The answer is yes, we could. We could buy a nice house in our area for the rent we pay. But it’s not about that. It’s about the people. It’s about striving to love, nurture, care for, and create into this world shaping it to a perfect image.

So as I sat here stressing the morning away, I realized that I didn’t know what I was interested in photographing. That I lost my voice. I used to love skateboarding, street style, the use of space both interior and exterior, and cooking. I could go in these routes and probably have a lot of fun — but today somehow they seem bland. And it occurred to me, I’ve been talking about this project for awhile. Photographing the people & places of Parkway. Perhaps I’ve lost my voice so I can share that of others.

As I am exploring this work, I would love to talk with you. If you’d like to get involved, be part of the conversation, or just follow the neighborhood, please drop me a line.

A Few Hours with the Sony A7ii: First Impressions

Background & cameras I’ve used

I grew up shooting old Pentax ME Supers with 35mm film. I love the compact nature of the ME Super, it’s clean cut lines and it’s light weight. It is a solid metal camera with good ergonomics and it is very easy to use. All your dials are conveniently located on the top with two buttons on the back to adjust the shutter speed. Did I mention it is tiny compared to many other cameras?

When I graduated into DSLRs I naturally chose between the two major competitors and wound up shooting with Canon. I’ve upgraded and adapted to the 5D mark 3, but the sucker is huge & I’m often holding 4 – 6 pounds with flash and varied lens lengths. Not so much fun. Which is why when it was coming time to update my camera body I moved sideways into Sony.

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Why the Sony A7ii

We are now a few renditions into the A7 line — Sony has the A7, A7s, A7r, and the mark 2 — it’s a proven entity and everyone is raving about it for film and some big names are using it for photography (Scott Robert Lim, Von Wong). I chose to purchase the Sony A7ii for it’s size, weight, built in image stabilization, mirrorless-ness, overall cost, Zeiss glass, and reviews. Here are my first impressions.

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My setup and thoughts on the physical camera

I’ve had just a few hours to play with the Sony A7ii along with the Sony 35mm F2.8 Sonnar T* Carl Zeiss lens. For 100% transparency I also have a Hoya 49mm UV Haze NXT HMC Filter protecting the lens. So here goes. The camera with the lens weighs just about 1.5 pounds — incredibly light by professional standards (barring Leica or Fuji) comparing it to my 5dm3 or equivalent Nikon cameras. It feels great in my hand and brings me right back to my days of shooting 35mm film. The guys at Sony have definitely made the grip on the mark two better than the first model.

Aperture and shutter speed dials are well positioned and the shutter button has been repositioned for a more natural posture. There are plenty of customizable buttons — I first changed button C4 to quickly modify my point of focus as I have a habit of doing this on the 5dm3 (I’ve tried center focus and crop and prefer getting my focus point as close to the subject as possible). I expect I will be modifying other buttons soon. The menus are easy to navigate and I’ve quickly adapted some settings to my shooting style — no manual required.

Using an electronic view finder is a bit different. I’m not 100% sure I like looking at a screen after using glass for years. I catch myself going to the back of the camera at times to make shots that I would be forced to make via viewfinder on my 5dm3. However, the EVF is plenty responsive, bright, clear, and you can use focus assist if using manual lenses. When you take a shot, you can preview an image on the back of the camera or in the EVF. I’ve turned off preview because it lags between shots. My one gripe is that it is not readily apparent how to turn off the screen on the back of the camera when not looking through the EVF. This makes the camera feel like a cheap point-and-shoot at times and notably reduces the experience as well as battery life. The moveable LCD screen is helpful when shooting at high or low angles, and this is the only reason I would shoot in this manner.

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Photographing with the A7ii

Overall, photographing with the Sony A7ii is a breeze. It focuses quickly with only minor struggle in low light. Once it grabs focus the camera has a hearty “shutter noise” that is satisfying — time will tell if it becomes annoying. High speed continuous, low speed continuous, single frame, but no silent mode (disappointed!). Also, I experience trouble while dragging the camera size to side — subject following causes it to create streaks in the photo at times. I believe this is a common problem experienced with mirrorless cameras (think the blur / light streaking at slow shutter speeds, but in this case it is caused by your sensor being on all the time).

I am in love with the color the A7ii produces. There is great color and dynamic range straight out of camera. To these images I’ve added VSCO Film 05 “Agfa Vista 100 -” to give the images some pop. I am disappointed that I’ve noticed color noise at 2000 ISO when rendering the images in Lightroom.

My biggest disappointment has nothing to do with the camera itself but the lack of an external battery charger provided with the camera. You charge the battery by plugging the camera into the wall via USB cable — something I don’t favor since the camera is not inexpensive.

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Summary of my not-so-technical review:

PROs
Incredibly light & agile camera
Great, but limited lens options
Great colors and dynamic range
Easy to navigate menus / customizability
Good ergonomics

CONs
Electronic view finder — I’m on the fence
No external battery charger
Noise at low ISO

I would love to hear about your experiences with the Sony A7ii — shoot me an email!

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Jordan – Urban Portraits

Urban. Graffiti. Industrial. These were the words that Jordan used to describe the setting she wanted for her photos. So I tossed out a few location ideas and we ventured into York City. As the self-proclaimed industrial art capital of the world York is a perfect backdrop for the session Jordan was looking for.

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Here’s what Jordan had to say about the session!

Testimonial - Seth Nenstiel Photography

Urban Portraits by photographer Seth Nenstiel – Inquire now.