I initiated this project to help satisfy my curiosity about old age. As it has progressed it has taken on special meaning for me in numerous ways. First, since I am well into my 70s, getting to know people who are a decade or so ahead of me and dealing successfully with aging provides me with role models, insight and inspiration for my personal journey into old age. These people are helping me deal with my fears and uncertainties. Second, I have found that every one of my subjects has an inspiring and fascinating story to tell about his or her life. I have gained a lot of new understanding of different cultural backgrounds and of the attitudes and lifestyles that enable people to thrive in old age. Third, I have enjoyed meeting and interacting with my subjects and forming new friendships.
Although much of my motivation for this endeavor has been highly personal, I hope that this project will serve the broader purpose of helping others to reduce some of their anxiety and fear associated with the aging process. Perhaps it will also help reduce some of the stigma that is associated with the elderly in our society. As these subjects clearly demonstrate, growing old does not necessarily doom us to dementia and infirmity. These alert and active individuals are thriving. They share a common, recurring positive attitude, which includes interest in other people and the world around them. We can all learn from their example and approach old age with optimism and enthusiasm.
One of the surprises in this project is that many people do successfully transform their lives by adapting their attitudes and outlooks, often late in life. In other words, many of us do get second chances in life. Based on this small sample of subjects, it seems that a willingness to adapt one's attitudes increases the odds of having a satisfactory aging process.
Photography became a serious pursuit for me after I retired in 2004. I found, to my surprise, that I had some talent for intimate portraiture. This appreciation emerged as I undertook a project that is still ongoing, namely photographing the homeless. Having received positive feedback over the previous 5 years, in 2011 I undertook this new project: photographing active senior citizens and capturing their stories. I have arbitrarily, but not rigidly, limited my subjects to those over 80 years old.
I am well aware that many others have undertaken projects similar to this one and have published beautiful books, such as "After Ninety" by Imogen Cunningham and "One Hundred over 100" by Jim Heynen and Paul Boyer. As a long-time admirer of Studs Terkel, I would like to think of this project as a variant on his "Coming of Age" book that includes photographic portraits of the subjects. However, I have no interest in competing with any of the excellent earlier work. I am merely presenting my own analysis, interpretation and feelings about aging through my particular subjects with their stories and photographs.
This gallery contains photographs and stories collected over the past two years. I have attempted to find subjects from a wide diversity of backgrounds and ethnicities. All live in or near Houston, Texas, which, fortunately offers the population diversity I was seeking. The age listed for the subjects is their age at the time that I interviewed and photographed them. The stories are summaries of what they were willing to tell me about their lives. The subjects were given the opportunity to review and edit my write-ups, and in a couple of cases they chose to re-write them for me. As my thank you to the subjects, I provided them with prints of their portraits.
© 2017 Bob Levy Photography