Whenever we hear the word “hospice”, our thoughts automatically – and naturally – associate it with the blunt fact that it is place for the terminally ill and the sadness that is linked to people dying. Death is unfortunately not something that people, particularly those from a western culture, are very comfortable discussing. Somehow we can never find the right words – if indeed there are any – to say when we find out that someone we know, whether intimately or otherwise, will have their life cut short. It is even more upsetting and distressing when that diagnosis is for a child whose life has barely started.
Demelza Kids – a collection of photographs by internationally acclaimed photographer Juergen Teller that will take place at Bonhams, New Bond Street, London from 10-16 April is a visual story of the children cared for by Demelza Hospice Care for Children at its centres in Kent and South East London. The aim of the exhibition is to raise awareness of the charity, which provides specialist care and emotional support for hundreds of children with terminal conditions and their families.
In 2018, Demelza invited Teller to visit its hospices in Sittingbourne and Eltham and document its crucial, life-enhancing work with local babies, children and young people who have terminal conditions and are in need of support. Teller made multiple trips to the hospices and dedicated much of his personal time to getting to know the children and their families, sometimes visiting them at their homes if they were unable to travel. Initially taking his professional SLR camera, Teller quickly swapped to his less-intrusive mobile phone so that he could integrate himself into the hospices as sensitively as possible.
Juergen Teller says of Demelza Kids: “I approached this project as I do with any other: the same respect, directness and honesty – how I truly felt it should be done – the way I might photograph a portrait of a friend, a celebrity, a landscape scene or my own children. I photographed the children as honestly as I could without shying away from the brutal truth of what I was confronting.”
“What struck me most was the overwhelmingly warm response from the parents and how thankful they were. To see and feel the parents’ pure love, patience, care and the challenges they face was the most amazing and touching experience. Working with Demelza has moved me deeply.”
Ryan Campbell CBE, Chief Executive of Demelza, said: “Demelza provides hospice care for children with terminal conditions, but there is so much more involved with what we do than those words convey – our work is about life, not death. The images in Demelza Kids convey it much better. There is more joy, laughter and fun than there is sadness. Children are children; the children we have the privilege to work with are amazing and inspiring, and that is why we have partnered with Juergen Teller. These families want to be seen, not hidden away and pitied.”
“We are hugely grateful to Juergen for bringing his kindness and integrity to the project and using his unique skills to create awareness amongst a whole new and powerful group of potential supporters, which will enable us to help many more children and families make the most of their often limited but incredibly special time together.”
Ralph Taylor, Bonhams’ Global Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, said: “Juergen Teller is one of the most influential and relevant photographers today. It is an honour to have his new work on show at Bonhams, especially as it highlights the work of such an extraordinary charity. These are images that will long live on in the mind.”
Born in Germany in 1964, Teller is considered to be one of the most important photographers of his generation. He has successfully navigated both the art world and commercial photography since beginning his career in the late 1980s, shooting high profile fashion campaigns for brands such as Celine, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood. He has published over 40 artist books and exhibition catalogues since 1996, which blur the boundaries between his commissioned and personal work. Teller’s work has been acquired by major museums across the world. He currently holds a Professorship of Photography at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Nürnberg.
Demelza was founded in 1998 by Derek and Jennifer Phillips following the death of their daughter. Demelza has grown to provide specialist care and emotional support for babies, children and young people up to the age of 19 including access to life-enhancing facilities. Demelza supports around 750 families each year across South East London, Kent and East Sussex. Facilities include a hydrotherapy pool, a music room, cinema, art room, soft play area and a sensory room.
Demelza is in the process of establishing a ground-breaking project that aims to provide a service that allows children to die in their own homes. Despite being regularly offered in adult palliative care, this option is frequently denied to children and young people due to the level of clinical support and equipment often required. Many children and young people would choose to die in the familiar comfort of their own home. Demelza is currently fundraising to become pioneers in this area and offer this service to children in Kent and South East London. Demelza Kids by Juergen Teller will be on display at Bonhams New Bond Street from 10–16 April 2019.
Demelza Kids by Juergen Teller
10–16 April 2019
Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, Mayfair
London W1S 1SR
Monday to Friday – 9am to 4.30pm
Sunday – 11am to 3pm