‘What do we experience leading up to the finality of life? What is left of our presence? What do we leave in the aftermath of our demise?’. These are some of the questions that Welsh photographer Gareth Phillips considered while carrying out his project ‘Existence’, thinking about mortality and his own suppositions about it by photographing in a Marie Curie hospice.
The project came about when Gareth was asked to photograph a neighbour who was receiving care at a hospice for a terminal illness. The neighbour’s son had just graduated from university but she was too ill to attend the graduation. The university brought the graduation to her, and it was held in the hospice so she could see her son graduate.
‘From the outset, I knew I wasn’t interested in photographing or graphically documenting death. I was much more intrigued as to how people live up to the point of death’.
The nurses at the Marie Curie Hospice sometimes refer to patients in the last stages of life as ‘on the pathway’. Jeanie is one of those patients and here she is observed in the final hours of life.
Gareth says his work ‘documents a presence made up of the physical and the spiritual that is felt when one has reached the end of life’.
There is an undoubted sense of spirituality connected to the hospice environment.
The patients who use the Marie Curie Hospice mostly come in for respite whilst dealing with a terminal illness. Here an elderly patient receiving respite care quietly sleeps during her time at the hospice.
‘I tend to work on projects that find me. Situations that somehow seem to mirror my personal circumstances and pique my interest. Situations and experiences that compel me to ask questions using a camera. For me it is not important to find answers within the imagery I create, only to ask more questions about the situation in front of me and to invoke the viewer to do the same’.