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Capturing the stark reality of living with diabetes

Getting around: A diabetic patient at Summerhaven gets from one room to another via wheelchair

Wheelchairs, amputations, insulin injections ­— a special photography show opening at City Hall this month highlights the nightmare of diabetes.

Local photographer Oliver Tucker, was commissioned by the Bermuda Diabetes Association to carry out a photo study of the disease in Bermuda. “I had just had my first solo show of Bermuda portraits,” said Mr Tucker, 24. “Alicia Wanklyn, Programme Coordinator for the Bermuda Diabetes Association, asked me to do the photo study. She said diabetes is a very Bermudian story, in some aspects.”

It is estimated that a quarter of Bermuda’s population has diabetes, and the amputation rate is also very high.

For several weeks, Mr Tucker has been following ten people in Bermuda with diabetes. The project is part of his London College of Communication Masters in Documentary Photography thesis.

He said: “Originally, I thought I was just going to do lifestyle related type 2 diabetes, but with the subjects I had access to it was a big variation and some people had type one diabetes (which is unrelated to lifestyle). Most of the people I photographed were over 50 years old.”

One of the challenges for Mr Tucker was gaining his subjects’ trust.

“To really show someone with diabetes you have to spend many hours in the day with them,” he said. “The more comfortable people feel the better.”

Mr Tucker said he had certainly learned a lot about diabetes through the project.

“I really didn’t know much about it before this project,” he said. “I feel like I know more. For me, the main insight was do what your doctor tells you to do.”

He said while many of the people he followed were diligent about checking their blood sugar they sometimes struggled to change their lifestyle.

“They are aware that they need to monitor their blood sugar, but it didn’t always influence them enough to change the way they were eating,” he said. “And some people I met still struggled with increasing the amount of exercise they did each day.”

He hoped that through the show, people would learn to take the threat of developing type 2 diabetes seriously.

“Maybe some people will realise it could be them next if they don’t monitor their lifestyle,” he said.

Ms Wanklyn said the project was about creating awareness of diabetes.

She said: “Awareness is important because diabetes has such a high cost to it, costs to society, to families, and costs to individuals.”

But she said diabetes is often overlooked.

“Until I started working with the Bermuda Diabetes Association I had no idea how prevalent the disease was on the Island,” she said. “And if I didn’t know, neither will the average person on the street.”

She chose a photography exhibition to get the message across because she believes that art can speed up social change.

“Diabetes is such a serious disease and is growing at such a fast rate that it is almost reaching epidemic or pandemic proportions globally,” she said.

“In Bermuda, we have a very high rate of amputations due to diabetes. That tells me that maybe the self care and management of the disease is not being taken as seriously as it should, or people aren’t motivated to take good care of themselves.”

The photo show will be held at the Bermuda Society of Arts (BSOA) at City Hall from October 31 to November 18 to coincide with Diabetes Awareness Month in November. Photographer Chris Burville will also have some conceptual pieces included in the exhibition. There will also be information available about diabetes.

For more information see www.diabetes.bm or call Ms Wanklyn at 518-3149. To see Mr Tucker’s work see www.olivertucker.com.