‘Watching You Go’ tells story of loss

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Ellamarie Quimby’s mother, Evelyn Quimby, gazes into the camera lens. According to Ellamarie, this is one of the only photos taken in 3 years where her mother acknowledged the camera directly. Photo Courtesy of Ellamarie Quimby. Photo credit: Ellamarie Quimby

Photography masters student Ellamarie Quimby has her thesis on display in the Fine Arts complex art gallery. “Watching You Go” centers on Quimby’s mother, who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gherig’s disease or ALS, in August 2014.

“I was working on a couple of other things but it felt really disingenuous to try,” Quimby said. “It felt like this body of work and this project is the thing that I needed to be doing right now. It is the thing I think about most in my day to day existence.”

ALS kills the nerve cells that control the muscles so people with ALS become paralyzed as their motor neurons die. It is estimated that roughly 20,000 Americans have the disease at any given time. A popular fundraising campaign that occurred concerning ALS was the “Ice bucket challenge” which was supposed to simulate the loss of muscle control due the shock of the icy water.

Quimby started shooting for the show before she moved to Fairbanks and before she decided that this project would be her thesis work. The exhibit is open to the public until Friday, April 7, when there will be a public presentation from noon – 1 p.m. There will be a closing reception later that Friday from 6 – 8 p.m.

To select her photos, Quimby said she would hang the pictures that caught her eye and then would stare at them until they became stale. The photos that remained through this process were the ones she never tired of, and became part of the illustrated narrative. Titles for the works were selected from her notes or journal entries.

“The titles are my voice even though I am not pictured in the work,” Quimby said.

Quimby has been taking photographs since she was 13 years old. She took a darkroom photography course as an elective course during a summer camp and found out when she was in high school that her school offered more of those courses which she took. She began calling herself a photographer at age 16.

Quimby found out about her mother’s condition while she was a program director at a residential summer camp in New Jersey when her father sent her an email.

“I had to excuse myself from lunch and I sat in my office and cried for an hour and then I didn’t really have time to process what I had learned because I had to go run the camp. It was strange coming to terms with it,” Quimby said. “I went home that weekend.”

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Zelda Quimby, Ellamarie Quimby's older sister, sits at the dining room table of the family's house in Annadale, Virginia and signs the power of attorney forms for their mother, Evelyn Quimby. Photo Courtesy of Ellamarie Quimby. Photo credit: Ellamarie Quimby

A challenge that Quimby faces with her project is that her family hates having their photos taken according to Quimby.

“The process itself is a bit rocky because my mom would be tired of having a camera in her face all day or I would have to make a lot of really specific choices,” she said, “about do I want to be fully present in this moment with my family right now experiencing it? Or do I want to be behind the screen of a camera documenting it? So, it’s been interesting having to make those choices a lot.”

Quimby’s family understands why she wanted to do the work and are fine with it, but according to Quimby, have never been active participants.

Quimby is interested in teaching photography, which is the reason why she is pursuing her masters in fine arts in photography. She currently holds a Bachelors in Fine Art Photography from the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington DC. Quimby is currently working on a project called “An Ocean in Our Blood,” which focuses on how immigrants and their children stay connected to their homelands.

After her graduation Quimby plans to move back to New Jersey to work in the summer camp again and then will seek a job in Philadelphia where her father’s family is from. She chose that location because she has spent a lot of time there and it is close to her mother so she can be home when she needs to be.

She gave some advice to families who have a member diagnosed with a terminal disease.

“I don’t know that I can give an answer that makes sense to everybody but the most general thing I could say is you have to take care of yourself,” Quimby said. “As much as you want to take care of the other person you have to figure out the best way for you to be present but you have to find a healthy coping mechanism and one of mine was doing this work.”

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