Greenpoint Gazette

Capturing Old Age: Greenpoint Resident Uses Artistic Skills to Give Back

BY Tanay Warerkar

One Greenpoint resident is giving back to his community by capturing the lives of the elderly.

For the past 18 months, Krzysztof Aniolczyk, a construction worker by day, has worked with the CareGiver’s project – an initiative dedicated to collecting stories and reflections from people looking after seniors, as well as trying to better understand the needs of the elderly by providing resources and support systems for their care.

As the group’s photographer, Aniolczyk takes portrait shots of the organization’s seniors, along with pictures of caregivers and family members at a series of events and meet-ups arranged by the CareGiver’s project.

“I try to capture the moments,” said Aniolczyk. “The love, the relationships that the caregivers and the elders share with each other, and that’s what’s most important to me. Everyone takes pictures of the living, but not enough people capture the moments of dying. You never know the last moment you have with someone.”

The organization was started by Mary Ellen DeVito, Michael E. Berry and Jomarie Zeleznik in 2012, all of whom were inspired to create the group having experience looking after their own parents. They were particularly moved by author Jonathan Rauch’s piece in the Atlantic in 2010 about looking after his elderly father in his final days.

“Because we knew that the lessons learned from caregiving in our generation would not be helpful for Gen X and Millennials, it was our goal to find away to get those generations involved with The CareGivers’ Project well ahead of when they would actually be caregiving for someone,” said Zeleznik. “It was an fortunate accident that creative people such as Krzys could interact with caregivers in a way that applied artistic expression rather than the overwhelming nuts and bolts aspects of how to keep a favorite aunt from going to a nursing home or how to supervise her care.”

While the organization doesn’t have a physical location, the group has created several platforms to facilitate their work. Apart from regular face-to-face meetings and events that take place several times a year, a large part of its work takes place online in the form of essays by caregivers, poems chronicling their experiences, and photo essays capturing moments the elders share with the caregivers conducted by contributors to the organization. At “My Mother’s Recipe,” events, elders and their caregivers are asked to bring a home cooked meal to be shared potluck style with the rest of the group.

“It’s just something to remind you of that relationship and that moment,” said Aniolczyk, whose father left home when he was three years old and died when he was 12. His only memory of him came from wedding pictures. “You don’t always get those moments back.”

Aniolczyk became interested in photography at a young age. While getting acquainted with film photography and printing his own pictures in a dark room in high school in Bay Ridge, he took lessons in painting and drawing. After studying graphic design as an undergrad, he received scholarships to several top art colleges in the country but chose to remain with his mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer.

Not one to be bogged down by obstacles, Aniolczyk still hopes to go back to school one day. But at the moment his work is a perfect synthesis of his life experiences and passions.

“This experience has really helped me open up to people,” said Aniolczyk. “It has allowed me to connect with people and the welcome I get when I walk into our events – I feel like a rock star.”

Aniolczyk is working with the organization to create a coffee table book of 40-50 of the portraits the group has collected. They also hope to showcase their work at a gallery.

The Caregiver Project’s next event, My Mother’s Recipe, will be held October 19, 12:30 to 3:00 p.m. at the Riverside Premier Rehab and Healing Center, 150 Riverside Drive, for more information visit http://caregiversproject.org.

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