As I approached this project it made me think about trying to capture something that is generally not looked at in-depth, and the subject of ageing and the elderly has been in my mind for some time. There was much discussion within the lectures at to the difference between photographs exhibited as art and art photography. Roland Barthes stated in his book, The Semiotic Challenge (1994, p.4) that, “… no one in the world can represent an idea.” This suggests that the photographer is always facing a challenge to produce original work, but as a student one realises that this must be near impossible; although faced with the same subject everyone will produce work which differs in some way, and represents their own viewpoint and artistic sensibilities. Since the first images were made and the minute photographers were not dictated to by the demands of commercialism, was the time they worked and experimented to produce projects they were interested in and felt compelled to investigate. The research into this project has revealed the huge amount of interesting, inspiring and imaginative work produced by photographers and that is continuing to be produced.
Many elderly people feel lonely and are often ignored as being past their usefulness. These are the ones who have lived through great moments in history and changes within our society. Even in my lifetime I have lived through having television introduced into the home, decimalisation, computers, the internet and digital cameras amongst others. I have been fortunate in that as a starting point I have several elderly neighbours, making it easy to gain their cooperation to take part. This in turn led to other people also wanting to participate and I had to ensure that it did not become unmanageable. I had to therefore diplomatically advise them that due to time constraints I could not include everyone. I was looking for ‘characters’ and this is something I can possibly take further in the future. I also endeavoured to include people of at least 70 years of age and more, although there is one women I included, as initially I thought she was older, but was an interesting character.
All the images (with the exception of the front cover of the resulting book) were taken in their own homes, as I felt they would be more relaxed in familiar surroundings and it would also provided some clues as to their personalities. The images were all taken using natural light, although when faced with a very dark room with little natural light I used a desk lamp to provide a supplementary light source. I also asked them to include an object that they felt was a representation of themselves or was an object to be treasured in some way. I felt this would be of more interest than just taking a portrait shot, and it was also useful as a talking point when I interviewed them. It also worked better to record the interview and take the images at the same time, rather than treating each separately. The subjects seemed happier to participate as the images were not going to be published, and most were more than happy to talk about the paths their lives had taken. It also showed how careful interviews of this nature need to be, to keep everything as relaxed and low-key as possible so that the person is at ease with what is taking place.
I have always felt that it is important to give something back to the people who have taken part, as they have given up their time and in this instance invited me into their homes. So everyone who took part was given a copy of the image I took of them and which I included in the book. On a sad note, my oldest participant who was an inspirational, lively 93-year-old died suddenly about 10 days after I took the images of her. This made them more precious particularly to the surviving members of her family.
Over time the projects I have undertaken have very much taken me out of my comfort zone on occasion, but given me the confidence to approach anyone, to see if they will take part in what I am doing; and this has generally proved to be the case. It has also opened the possibilities of subjects to pursue in greater depth at a later date when time constraints have not been imposed, and also to experiment with different techniques which I have been introduced to as part of my studies.