Reflecting on Reflections

Today we have a guest post from one of our interns, Kyle! He recently had the opportunity to shadow the Nasher Museum’s Reflections tour, and wrote about his experience.


Today, I had the opportunity to tour the Reflections program at Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art. This program gives visitors with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias the chance to engage and interact with the art through guided discussions through galleries and hands-on art experiences.

The tour first began by examining and discussing an old photograph of a family (shown below). The tour guide briefly presented the photo and asked us what we thought about the photo and how we felt when looking at it. One visitor, in particular, kept moving forward almost literally touching the photo, examining every little detail. This visitor told us how it made her feel nostalgic about her childhood. I found that the artwork allowed the individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s to bring back hidden memories from their childhood that they may have forgotten. Many times, the visitors would have a moment where everything made sense all of a sudden and they could connect it to their lives.

Kyle_reflections tour 2

We then moved towards a room filled with similar photographs and learned about the history of how the photographs were taken in Durham by the Eno River and abandoned in a farm. Since the photographs were taken using glass negatives, over time due to the environment, the chemicals on the glass negatives seeped through the photos, creating these almost magical blue, black, and purple fringes and details around the faces and boarders of the portraits.

For our next activity, everyone was given an adjective and had to find a photo that they thought best fit it. It was interesting to see visitor’s laugh, smile, or frown as they examined the photographs. These images gave life to everyone who looked at them, making them reflect on their family and childhood. Some of the visitors explained that they choose a particular photograph based on whether or not they could relate to it, while others choose the one that they thought was the most beautiful.

The program shifted from examining works of art to now actually making our own using iPads. The goal was to create a photograph that resembled the overlaid photos we just examined using pictures of some of the art in the gallery and/or selfies of yourself. I felt like I was in a photoshoot, helping to model, take pictures, and suggest positions. I connected with one couple, who were having trouble finding the perfect shots to take. They wanted the “perfect” pieces that could fit “perfectly” together. We ended up overlaying a stain glass full-body portrait on-top of a painting, reminiscent of Barack Obama’s presidential portrait.

Through the tour, I found that it fostered an environment in which visitors could simply speak their minds about the art, free from judgment for forgotten words and pauses. Everyone enjoyed their time, relaxing and interacting with one another. I was shocked to see so many of the visitors speak and share their thoughts and experiences with the group. They all spoke with confidence and enthusiasm, wanting to learn more about the art work and express themselves. This exhibit allowed the visitors the opportunity to remember experiences, interests, and memories that they used to love, while exploring new interests and environments. I am so happy I had the chance to shadow the Reflections Tour today. I would love in the future to bring one of the clients from A Helping Hand to the tour and share with them this cultural, artistic, and freeing experience.

-Kyle Ockerman, Spring 2019 Intern at AHH

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