Every night before going to sleep, 20-year old Greg Weintraub takes a look at five photos hanging on the wall above his bed. They remind him that there's more to life than remembering to take your medication.
“I have an awareness of what could happen every night before I go to bed. My blood sugar could go low. I could have a seizure,” explains Greg, a Psychology Major at Eugene Lang College at the New School in New York.
Ever since being diagnosed with diabetes as an eight-year old in 2001, his life has been heavily dictated by the meticulous demands of dealing with the disease. Around his hips he's carrying an insulin pump that releases a small amount of insulin round the clock. Additionally, Greg injects himself with insulin before every meal and knows exactly how much – or little – he can consume at any given time of the day without excessively raising or lowering his blood sugar levels. Over the years, the disease has forced him to develop an acute awareness of what goes in to his body and when. During his talk with Art & Healing, Greg is drinking a cup of green tea but only because he has been walking around the streets of New York City prior to the interview. Without the exercise, which makes the blood sugar drop, the tea's caffeine content could make his blood sugar peak. It's all about finding the right balance.
“Dealing with diabetes becomes second nature. I wake up in the morning and I know that he finger-pricking, the insulin injections, etc., it'll all have to happen again. Diabetes is very much like Groundhog Day,” Greg says.
To escape the repetitive nature of his diabetes routines and the constant awareness of the disease, Greg has found refuge in the arts. He is taking photos. With his Canon SLR camera and with his iPhone; stylized images in studios and random snapshots on the street. Unlike insulin injections, photos can be taken whenever, wherever. Nothing has to be calculated – and if you “forget” to take a photo, nothing happens. The unpredictable, spontaneous aspects of photography appeal to Greg:
“It's like walking down the streets of New York. I never know what will happen.”
It was an experience on a school trip to a Canadian river in 2006 that triggered Greg's passion for photography. Equipped with a basic point-and-shoot camera, he leaned over the edge of a bridge, rushing to take one mandatory photo as instructed by his teacher, clicked, and then forgot everything about the photo. Until he looked at it back at the hotel. “It was just 'wow'. I was surprised by what I had captured”, he recalls. Today, photography is an essential part of Greg's life, necessary in dealing with the diabetes. Having danced for ten years (“somewhat seriously”), Greg's main interest is dance photography, explaining that he finds it fascinating to explore and capture “what makes people move – literally – in dance”.
“My family knows that my photography is just as essential as the actual treatment of the disease. Art has a tremendous ability to not only heal but to teach one about one self.”
What does art teach you about yourself?
“To enjoy every second of my life. Without the diabetes lying on me, but to just enjoy.”
What would your relationship to art have been, if you had not had diabetes?
“It wouldn't have been. If I hadn't been diagnosed, I don't think there would have been an incentive to express how I feel. I had never in my life done anything artistic, besides art classes in school, which were mandatory. I was forced to do it. Had I not been diagnosed, I have a very hard time believing I would have fallen into creative expression. I may have taken that photo leaning over the bridge, but again, I would have been obligated to take it, to document the trip.”
Maybe you wouldn't have had that “wow-feeling” when looking at the photo afterwards?
“Right. I think diabetes almost gave me permission to participate in what's important to me. It gave me a reason, forced me to reconsider what I do with my time. I think photography will be part of my long-term path. I don't want to make it a fulltime occupation in my life, but I certainly think it will play a big part. It has always been and always will be a way for me to deal with the diabetes.”
Thanks to Maria Lützen for authoring this interview.