Alan Lee Takes Photos of Hospice Life

A dying photographer's poignant exhibition documents precious moments at the end of life
Alan Lee sits in his wheelchair in front of photos of hospice life

Alan Lee sits in his wheelchair in front of his exhibition at Assisi Hospice
Credit: Stephanie Yeow via straitstimes.com

Alan Lee is dying. Since last June, the 69-year old freelance photographer has been a patient at the Assisi Hospice in Singapore, where he is suffering from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. But Mr. Lee is not in the hospice to die, he said in an interview with The Straits Times. He is there to take pictures, and to show the world that happiness and joy are possible even in the face of certain death.

Alan Lee is confined to a wheelchair, which he says makes shooting high-quality photos challenging. And he is too short of breath to propel himself around the halls, so he has to enlist a cadre of “pretty young girls” to help him out. But one of his final wishes was to create a photo exhibition that showed that “there’s a positive side to all of this.” And so he picked up his camera and began shooting, capturing about 70 photos over the course of a month. Then, with the help of a friend, he put together an exhibition of 19 of those photos and titled it “Come Walk with Me.” The photos were on display at the Assisi Hospice through August 2017.

B&W photo of elderly woman in hospice by Alan Lee

Credit: Assisi Hospice

Although not all of Mr. Lee’s black and white photographs are featured on line, those that are are poignant and powerful. They show staff and families interacting with patients, many of whom are enjoying their last days or weeks of life. The photos are not artistically “perfect,” since, as Mr. Lee points out, it’s hard to shoot at the right angle when you’re sitting down. But they nonetheless convey the message that warmth and joy can exist in a place that’s dedicated to helping people die.

There’s Sadness Too

Of course, not everything is rosy at the Assisi Hospice. Mr. Lee admits that he experiences depression, sadness, fear and doubt. “Everyone has to die, so there’s no point in being afraid of it,” he says. But the process of dying does sometimes frighten him. “I know what it’s like to drown,” he says, referring to his ever increasing shortness of breath. “And you just sure as hell hope you don’t die like that.”

Photo of a woman laughing at Assisi Hospice by Alan Lee

Credit: Assisi Hospice

Despite his fears, however, Alan Lee comes across as a man who is squeezing every bit of pleasure that he can out of what’s remaining of his life. And his photographs convey the spirit of a man who is not afraid to look at death and dying with an unwavering eye, but who can see happiness there nevertheless.

“These are not sad pictures, not sob pictures,” Lee says. “They show there’s still a bit of life here and I hope people can see a bit of happiness here. Someone once said, if you can’t add days to your life, add life to your days.”

Elderly man works with hospice staff in photo by Alan Lee

Credit: Assisi Hospice

Alan Lee appears to be following that advice.

Did you enjoy this post? If so, check out our piece about and artist and a poet who collaborated to create art about hospice life. 

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