Robert Varney

Class of 2020

Robert Varney is the recipient of The Donald E. Camp Award for 2020. This award is established and selected by Donald E. Camp, professor emeritus of art, and awarded to the student exhibiting risk-taking in art in the Annual Student Exhibition.

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Artist’s Statement

My grandfather and grandmother have been the subjects of my photography work for the last two years. For the past ten years, before his passing in May 2019, my grandfather battled dementia, which ultimately led to him being housed in a home for the memory impaired. Understanding the disease of Alzheimer’s and the effects on my grandmother are just small parts of their story, but I find them important to tell because of the silence and familial tension felt in dealing with this disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease is caused by the slow abnormal buildup of certain proteins within the brain. The amyloid protein creates plaques around brain cells, and the tau protein creates tangles within neurons. These factors will eventually lead to the neurons being unable to function and to eventually die. The disease dehumanizes its victims, taking away the person they were and replacing it with anger or confusion. Through this work, I hope to impart an understanding of these sorts of situations in order to restore part of that humanity and provide comfort to those staring down these challenges.

Since 1960, the house itself has been witness to many chapters of their lives. Raising kids, sending them to school then college, weddings, funerals, and holidays with grandchildren. Over time, just like our bodies, houses collect scarsindications of stories or simply marks of the space being lived in. While the construction of this domestic enclosure is wood and steel, there is much more going on in making the space a home. Understanding the dynamics of a couple that battled this disease are just one of many taking place.

These interior scenes paired with my grandmother’s testimony (audio link above) explore the role of the lone caretaker within their home environment and illustrates the strength required to carry the weight of dedication, as well as the treatment of this disease in our communities. She is not pictured in any of the images, allowing the viewer to imagine her facing these challenges in life and even consider similar challenges that they or the elders in their life have faced.

Follow Robert Varney on Instagram @rob_varn and visit his website at