Beauty of age
For one year I am meeting people who are older than 80 and ask them about their story and their advice on life - and I take their portrait. I met over 30 people so far and recorded almost 100 hours of conversations. I laughed and cried and smiled and sat in silence together with these human beings who together spend over 2400 years of time on the planet. I ask them things like what their favorite age was; what they like about being old; and what they would have loved to know when they were 20.
My goal is to share that age is nothing to be scared of and that elderly people are not a burden to our society but a treasure of advice and knowledge about life. We can read about history in books but that can't compete with a real person sitting in front of you and telling you about the day the war started and they were on lunch break in elementary school watching the first bombers flying over their head in the school yard. Or how real hunger feels. Or advice on how to be thankful and satisfied with what you have.
I dream of more young people regularly meeting elderly people to have conversations. Both sides have so much to gain and learn from each other. I can't even put into words how much these meetings and conversations how enriched my life and my thinking. It feels like listening to life itself.
I want to show that wrinkles are beautiful, but even more I want to show that I found a much greater beauty within these people - who endured some of the worst things that can happen to a human being - but they didn't become bitter but instead cultivated an invisible, inner beauty of positivity, hope and kindness that we need so much in this world.
Mary (90) --- In San Francisco I had the honor to meet Mary and Henry who were born in China and came to the US in their early 20ies. Mary always loved music and whenever one of her grandchildren would start learning an instrument she would learn it too, so she could help them practice. Today she is 90, has dementia and is half paralyzed but still plays the piano with her right hand. In the moment I took this image she played 'Memory', Henry was sitting in an armchair humming and their daughter was cooking dinner in the kitchen singing along. It was surreal and sad and beautiful all at once.
The day I met Mary and Henry we went to the DeYoung museum where they go regularly to look at the painting of the Niagara Falls (by Gustav Grunewald, 1832). They went their for their honeymoon almost 60 years ago (and as Henry tells me, they had to sleep in the car as all the hotel were booked out). I asked them if they want a photo of them in front of the paintings and didn't give them any directions on where to sit or what to do. Henry said 'Do you remember, Mary?' And she silently said 'Hold my hand' (She does not speak a lot anymore but asks that quite frequently and Henry always comes and holds her hand) and this moment just happened.
Then the security guard walked by and brought the whole scenery back to reality saying, Hi Mary, Hi Henry, are you back again?'
Henry (94) --- This is Henry. He told me the story of his and Marys lives. About how they started a new life in America and how they raised their children and so much more. He smiled so much while telling their story that I needed to ask him, why he is so happy. And he said: I had an amazing life, better than I hoped it would be and I am sure the gods would end it right away if I wouldn't be thankful for it every single moment.
Seeing how he cares for Mary was wonderful. But what moved me beyond words was how his love for her felt so fresh and powerful. We watched a recording of Mary singing opera on stage some ten years ago and he was bursting with pride, held her hand and - looking at her - said: Oh my wonderful, talented, beautiful wife.