The TTP Chronicles

An Act of Solidarity

Story & Images by Elaine Van der Merwe-Louwrens
“...to create a set of photographs that made me feel like we were physically together, became a coping mechanism...”

I wish I could say that the idea for this series of photographs was like an old coin. That I turned it in my hand, over and over, examining it slowly and allowing the concept to form methodically. But it was not, this came more like a gale force wind, it manifested in my mind with the same turbulence and ferociousness.

At first glance these photos might be curiously intriguing. They might even pique your interest.

These photographs, they tell a story but not the story within the story... for that you need me.

So let me tell you our tempestuous and unexpected tale:

11 November 2020 10h39am.
Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura; a rare blood disorder was diagnosed and the TTP Chronicles were created. The condition was not mine but my husband’s.

In such a personal, unexpected crisis the very existence of our collective family identity was questioned. The framework of how our lives should now play out had to be examined. I had to ask: how will this change our everyday story?

“Photography was the medium I chose in my attempt to re-establish our combined identity, to create a focal point unrelated to his current situation. A likeness of a better day. An escape.”

This daily task I set myself, to create a set of photographs that made me feel like we were physically together, became a coping mechanism. An act that would distract my mind from my own solitude and confusion. A means to deal with the enormity of it all. This “drama” set amidst a global pandemic, restricted hospital visits and the ever-present medical jargon. A drama that happened parallel to this worldwide chaos but were completely separate from it.

This narrative series depicts an unrestrained yet conceptual version of our life on a farm in Africa. Set in silence and faceless, this monologue portrays moments of vulnerability unfolding. Moments that my husband could relate to, as they are representative of the mundane daily tasks we would habitually perform together or alternatively communicate a space that is familiar to him – our homelife. By wearing bright, colourful ensembles, a juxtaposition was created between the vibrancy of everyday life at home and the detached, clinical environment he found himself in.

I did not choose to hide the ugly work corners of our life, the inner-workings of an active farm. I did not choose to hide the cracks, the scars, the imperfections. I wanted to feel the enormity of it all, I wanted to feel small. Breakable. I needed this to feel otherworldly.

Each set of photographs are set in diptychs as they hinge upon one another. Each set represents a snapshot especially created to provide an interlude. To entertain, distract and evoke a childlike curiosity. A slow breath.

Being a faceless persona emphasizes that these self-portraits are not about me but about him. By removing the distraction of a human face and eyes, I disassociated my person from each scene. The facelessness becomes an instrument to aid in reinforcing the loss of identity and sense of self. It communicated how unexpected this diagnosis was, how it threatens our mundane daily tasks, yet became familiar to us.

Every morning while in the Intensive Care Unit in a town called Trichardt, hours’ drive away from our home, he would receive a set of photographs. An act of solidarity. Becoming a means for us to share our days, sooth the solitude we both experienced; him sequestered in ICU, me alone on a farm. The series evolved to explores how the human psyche and spirit can be positively influenced by a simple show of empathy.

And though voiceless and unidentifiable these images represent my daily mantra during those weeks:

“I will be the plated armour for my human. I will be the shield.
This will not defeat or define us.
Our identities will not be impaired.
Our existence will not be threatened.
We will be.”

It is a show of defiance against the paper chains that such an unwanted change in our lives can impose.

Elaine Van der Merwe-Louwrens is a photographer and owner of Dust and Dreams Photography as well as owner/creative director of Thirteen Ideas Emporium.