Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), or ‘Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome’, is the condition suffered by Michael Tan’s father, the subject of his Michael’s latest solo exhibition at Light Editions Gallery, Dancing with Dad.
The exhibition intersperses photographs of the subject’s physical body and everyday activities with poetry by Michael Tan himself about his relationship with his family.
Michael Tan displays an overt intention to raise awareness of PSP; the exhibition catalogue contains a matter-of-fact FAQ section by Associate Professor Louis Tan and Dr Kulthida Methawasin of the Parkinson’s disease and Movement Disorders Centre. However, Michael’s photographic essay goes above and beyond pure documentation – Dancing with Dad provides a poignant narrative of a man suffering from a neurodegenerative disease whose symptoms include lack of eye-movement, loss of coordination, and speech difficulties. Through his photographs, Michael not only codes the new language necessitated by his father’s loss of physical control over his body, but also interprets the photographer’s own experiences as son and caregiver, as a not so dispassionate observer.
Michael focuses on his subject with a bold unwavering eye, but his direct stare is accompanied with a tenderness in the close cropping and intimate framing of his images. Like his photographs, Michael’s poetry is at once sparse and direct, tackling their subject matter headon.
Issues of formal aesthetic never get in the way of Michael Tan’s personal story; any technical concerns of focus, lighting or vantage points stay unobtrusive and never get in the way of the sheer immediacy of human experience of the photographs. Michael Tan is not striving for clinical and unbiased documentary, but neither does he romanticise his subject. There is an utter lack of artifice in his images, and their power lies in their honest simplicity. All remains in plain sight – a man’s body and day-to-day experiences laid bare.
To date, there is no known cure for PSP, and the goal of treatment is to control its symptoms. Dancing with Dad brings an accessibly human dimension to our knowledge of PSP, and the exhibition highlights the fact that photographers are never detached messengers of an unbiased truth. Through his images, Michael Tan reminds us that knowledge and immediate human experience are never separate and distinct realms.