Working Memory is the latest handmade book production from photographer Jim Reed (b. 1984, USA), in the form of a sensitive and clever portrait of an elderly woman living with dementia. Deftly avoiding the cliché of recording the struggles of others, Working Memory is imbued with levity and affection. Divided into purple folders as chapters, and bound by thin purple ribbon, the work resembles an eccentric medical record, immediately recognisable as a kind of clinical study and yet just as quickly, realised as a personal document.
The woman portrayed, Shirley Jorjorian, an artist and former songwriter, evidently lives in a tall filing cabinet of a building, her apartment suffused with knick-knacks and post-it notes. A sign on her apartment door is marked as 'HUG department,' remarking also that she's 'always open,' and further inside, we see a meticulous cataloguing of hugs, filed by month and year (As of 2-7-2006, she had a count of 39,129 hugs). By including not only photos of her life and dwelling, but also reproductions of her hand-written notes, like spreadsheets of hugs, the full impact of the medium of a clinical examination of her life hits: how lonely must a person be, to count and document every hug?
The book is narrated, in a way, by questions posed on pages of the book, which are extracts from the Mini Mental State Examination, a test given to assess the various states of dementia. Their simple inclusion both gives an understanding of the day to day workings of Jorjorian's life with dementia, as well as the tentative and confusing state of being able to understand her own world. Working Memory is a wonderfully told story, both in photographic terms as well as in choices of text and medium, and is an excellent example of the photo book as an art object.