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MOPA Comes To The South Bay: Photography and Alzheimer’s

Kevin Linde at the Otay Nestor Library

Most people in San Diego know that the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA), located in Balboa Park, offers exquisite exhibits throughout the year. Lesser known are their outreach programs.

Kevin Linde, Adults Programs Coordinator, has been offering workshops to Spanish language communities in the South Bay for the last two years. Recently, in collaboration with the Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC), MOPA reached out to Spanish speaking seniors who have been diagnosed with various stages of Alzheimer’s.

Photography is a language more universal than words.

–Minor White

My Life Through The Lens” is a four-week workshop that was first presented to English speakers in La Jolla. Kevin, a fluent Spanish speaker, then brought the workshops down to the Otay Mesa-Nestor Public Library where seniors and their caregivers watched a slideshow presentation of photographs while discussing what pictures can communicate. Kevin highlighted the importance of light, colors and shapes that form a still-life picture. He also explained that photographs can capture small things about individuals and their personalities.

MOPA showed participants how to use a digital camera and after the presentation they had the opportunity to go outside the library and take pictures. Kevin also provided everyone with a little machine that printed the pictures out on photo paper. Kevin explained that pictures so often remain only on our computers these days. It’s rare to print them and hold them in our hands.

The workshops, more significantly, showed how Alzheimer’s patients can benefit from spending time in the moment, being totally present. “By being part of the moment, they are taking photographs and they can respond to them,” Kevin said.

Photography, as we all know, is not real at all. It is an illusion of reality with which we create our own private world.

La fotografia, segun la conocemos, no es real. Es una ilusion de la realidad con la que creamos nuestro propio mundo privado.

–Arnold Newman

Participants in the program were experiencing various stages of Alzheimer’s. One abuelita sat in a wheelchair and could no longer speak. Her daughter, the primary caregiver, participated in the workshop with her. The daughter took the photographs and helped her mother enjoy the experience. At the end of the program, participants were given an album that included their own photographs. The daughter selected a photo of her and her mother’s hands. She included a paragraph in Spanish underneath that read: “She is always thinking of her past life and family, although she cannot express it, but living with her I can interpret her silence.”

MOPA In South Bay

Another participant was experiencing some mild short-term memory problems. For the sake of preventative care, she went to an ADRC seminar breakfast and while there, she found out about the South Bay workshop. She and her husband then signed up for the workshop to learn more about photography. As a retired travel agent, she brought a toy airplane with her to photograph next to the John J. Montgomery commemoration.

AvionOne senior, Conseulo, was born in Tijuana and lived the last forty years in the South Bay. She raised her four children and was proud to remember that she worked as a volunteer at their schools. She currently lives with one of her nine grandchildren and remembers much of her past, including her trip to Puerto Rico and her husband who died in 1995. She is on medication, but explains that she has trouble with her short term memory, often misplacing things. She enjoys knitting clothes for her family.


The fourth and last workshop took participants by bus from the South Bay to MOPA. Kevin gave a tour of the exhibits, including of the 10th annual youth exhibition called Self Reflection, which for the first time included photographs by youth from Tijuana. The theme took the currently popular “selfie” and asked students to turn the camera back on themselves. Their submissions revealed diverse personalities, struggles, and perspectives.

Martha Muniz, originally from Mexicali and a clinical psychologist for the ADRC, collaborated with Kevin during the workshops. She explained that she does psychological testing of memory, concentration, visual and spatial skills to find out where patients are along the various stages of Alzheimer’s. She also recruits people with normal controls and then follows them every year to see where and when they start to slip down in their cognitive abilities.

Martha said, “Because my job is very measured and standardized, I like giving back to the community and getting to know people, rather than just testing them. This is a quality of life program.”

Ideally, MOPA and the ADRC hope to hold the workshop again in La Jolla next Spring and in the South Bay next Fall. Check MOPA and the ADRC for upcoming workshops and seminars.


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