"Show a positive image of the elderly and those who care for them in their everyday lives through photography."
When the director of the retirement home in St. Jean de Losne in Burgundy France suggested this idea to me I almost couldn't wait to get started.
It's a tricky subject because it forces us to confront a reality that we'd rather not look at or even think about: that inevitable stage of our lives when time catches up with us; when we begin to lose our bearings; when our social ties shrink and our dependence on others grows. In a world where the pace of life is always increasing and where we are constantly subjected to a profit margin mentality which dictates and measures our personal worth, productivity is the goal and youth and beauty is the norm. Speed is what matters. The image of the elderly, being the opposite of that, projects us into a parallel universe where time slows down as if to further strengthen its hold on us invalidating our existence.
Is it possible to put a positive spin on this world where time crawls by gradually restricting every movement, and leaving the mark of the passing years etched deeply in every face? At first, being there felt like a kind of suspended animation where nothing happens and where there is no way out. However, as I observed life here, the beauty of old age became obvious in the sparkle of an eye, a compassionate gesture between two residents or the joyful sound of their voices at choir practice. Day by day, living with these older people stripped of any artifice, their authenticity moved me and they went straight to my heart. It was not "the elderly" whom I photographed at all. It was Michel Loriod, Mrs. Lay, Maria, Rene Camus, Angel Revy, Jeanne Konig and all the other individuals.
But besides living in the same establishment, what did they all have in common? The ages, degrees of dependence, and physical and mental health varied greatly from one person to the next. Despite the toll the years had taken, some were in relatively good physical shape, whereas others required a wheelchair to get around. Still others were unable to speak, or confined in a body made rigid by illness and arthritis. And some residents could no longer express themselves having completely lost touch with reality. How does one have a meaningful exchange without the power of speech or control of one's gestures? I found that the essential is communicated by feelings. By a smile, a reluctant tear, a wink or a profound look. Much more than with words, it is with their hearts that they speak. That's what I learned being around these beautiful people and that's the image I cherish of them: rather than â€œold ageâ€ their age is â€œof the Heart".
The staff understands this very well and often stimulates communication by evoking an emotional response with a joke, a display of kindness, or a gesture of tenderness.
These people are our parents and our grandparents; they are who we came from and who we will become. Spend a little while with them. Look closely at them and offer them a moment of your time. They have so much to give. They have the "Age of the Heart". Open yours to them.