Drawing on an impressive photographic career after a dementia diagnosis

Jason Scott Tilley in Coventry, who has vascular dementia, tells us how he still draws on the skills of his photography career. 

For a large part of my life, I was a press photographer. My grandfather Bert worked as a photographer for the Times of India in the 1930s and 40s, capturing moments from the end of the British Empire.

I grew up looking through his albums, which inspired me to take up photography too. I started training and work from a young age – about 15 years old. 

Somebody introduced me to newspaper editor Barry Clark, and I went on to work for the Coventry Citizen and Coventry Evening Telegraph until I was about 23. 

Happy time 

I worked for national magazines and newspapers. I was at the NEC in Birmingham a lot, so photographed all the famous faces including James Brown and Cliff Richard. 

I remember photographing Elton John on his 50th birthday as well as Prince and Kylie Minogue. It was a happy point in my life. 

Jason Scott Tilley

Noticing I was different 

In 2020, my partner noticed I was a bit different. She helped me to get to hospital where I had a brain scan. This was during Covid, so one of my memories of that day was constantly having test swabs up my nose. 

The scan showed that I’d had a transient ischaemic attack, or a mini stroke. I had a series of them. It was quite some news to receive – I was 55 and it was two or three days before Christmas.

Difficult tasks 

I then found out that I have dementia. The type of dementia I have is vascular dementia. My friends joke that is the one thing I can remember! 

Dementia affects my short-term memory and I also stammer after the strokes. I started finding some of the easiest things to do the most difficult. 

One day I was struggling to pay for something in a shop. I said to the lady behind the cash register, ‘I’m sorry, I have dementia.’ 

She said, ‘No you haven’t.’ I said, ‘Yes I have, I remember the MRI scan!’ My dementia is an invisible disability. 

In the darkroom 

I haven’t been able to work since I was diagnosed with dementia, but what I really love doing is printing black and white photos in the darkroom. It’s just the magic of seeing the photos come through and the memories they bring. 

I’ve been working with an organisation to develop my archive of negatives. 

I was lucky to get some funding with help from my good friend Dr Ben Kyneswood and my prints are due to be in an exhibition next year. 

Future hopes 

I want to sell some of my prints in the future. I look forward to getting back into the darkroom and I hope I might be able to teach printmaking to university students one day. 

I have decades of experience to share. 

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Dementia together magazine

Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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