Thoughts on Portraying Parkinsons

The Creative Review Twitter feed brought to my attention the interesting (and varied) debate going on with regards to the latest Parkinsons UK poster campaign.

From the article;“A powerful poster campaign for Parkinsons UK uses 26 imagemakers to portray the many symptoms of this debilitating disease”.

There’s no denying that the posters are both powerful, and in many cases, beautifully executed. The artists involved have done what is, in my personal opinion, an amazing job of accurately portraying some of the lesser known facets of Parkinsons Disease, which is no mean feat when a huge percentage of those symptoms are psychological or otherwise silent.

My first responses to the images, not as an artist, but as a close relative to somebody suffering in the later stages of this illness, were mixed. Several of the posters hit home hard, and brought sharply to my attention the fact that even as someone with a good level of awareness of the facts, there are elements which I, at best, misunderstand, and at worst, push to the back of my mind. I can’t help but feel that this sort of realisation can only be a positive thing in terms of further understanding the many, varied symptoms and side effects of both the illness itself, but also the medication and the social issues surrounding sufferers.

In part, my personal attachment to the issue is more than likely skewing my viewpoint. A lot of those images hit me quite hard, emotionally speaking, and force me to not only rethink everything I’ve seen of what Parkinsons does, but also consider more fully exactly what it must feel like to be affected by the various symptoms and surrounding issues. If there is one positive thing, it is that the posters are certainly attention grabbing, and at the very least, may encourage thought in the mind of the viewer, although I have to wonder whether the average person in the street, someone who is not affected by Parkinsons and has only a general level of awareness about it, would have a response strong enough to then go on and gain more knowledge.

On the other hand, however, and this goes partially into the social side of things, I agree with several of the comments posted on the original article, in that the disease is already horrifying enough, and whilst a campaign like this is never intended to be a soft, cuddly approach, it might end up going too far in the opposite direction and further foster misapprehension and fear in those who do not fully understand the implications of the illness. Some of the work seems entirely too vague, and risks the intended message being overlooked entirely, perhaps not helped by the lack of clear charity branding on many of the posters.

As one reader posted, understanding of Parkinsons needs promoting and addressing without the horror aspect. Whilst nobody wants to feel pitied (the symptoms can be humiliating enough without pity), sufferers do need greater patience and understanding from the people around them, and whilst portraying the illness in this manner certainly grabs attention, I can’t decide if it’s for quite the right reasons.

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