Fighting Alzheimer’s

Aug 28, 2012
Photographer News

by Maria Luci

For six days in July, photographer David W Johnson found himself in Vancouver surrounded by over 4,000 of the world’s top Alzheimer’s scientists and doctors at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. The scientists were there to report on and discuss the groundbreaking achievements and advances being made in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease; David was there to photograph them.

Back in college, David shot a simple portrait assignment for a local client. He was hired by a Michelle Sleight for the gig. Then last Spring, after deciding to catch up with old clients, he contacted Michelle and found she was now the associate director of strategic marketing at the Alzheimer’s Association. Not long after reconnecting, Michelle offered David an assignment for the Association—photographing portraits of important attendees of their International Conference.

Before the conference, Michelle emphasized to David that the Alzheimer’s Association team wanted him to incorporate his own ideas, style and interpretation of the subjects into the portraits. This event is the most important forum of Alzheimer’s research and they wanted David to communicate the significance of the real people behind the research and lab coats.

David took the challenge head on, knowing he wanted moving photographs that conveyed the personalities and spirit of the subject. His goal was to create images far from the norm of sterile lab shots and formal portraits. He explains,

I tried to pay attention to what the client’s priorities were and use that as a structure. I didn’t want too many dead-on, looking at the camera shots. My goal was to try and communicate the importance of the work that these scientists and doctors are doing, without being in a lab or an office. I also didn’t want it to feel like the scientist and doctors were there to get the portrait taken. Most people in this field are used to having sterile head shots taken, so I asked them questions about their research and eventually they would forget their head shot pose, giving me enough time to catch something real—something natural.

The assignment was an eyeopener for David, who realized that this is the type of work he wants to be doing. Photographing at the conference allowed him to learn a great deal about neurosciences and Alzheimer’s, and what needs to be done to find a cure. It inspired him to continue using his camera for good,

I really wanted to do well on this specific assignment because I realized that rather than just trying to make images that sell a product or increase clientele, these images are communicating for millions of people around the world affected by this disease. I would like to work on more projects that could ultimately have an impact on the future of those in need. Whether that means under-resourced peoples, or, like in this assignment, working for people who are fighting for the physical well-being of people who need it.

David’s images will be used in Alzheimer’s Association print and web marketing materials, with the goal of raising awareness and funds for the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

View more of David’s work at

Tags: alzheimer's association alzheimer's association international conference alzheimer's disease david w johnson photography portraits