The UK, and many countries like it, have an embarrassing relationship with age. Instead of revering the wisest of the tribe, as many more primitive cultures do, we tend to stigmatise, exclude and institutionalise our elders out of sight and out of mind. The anti-ageing market is a thriving one and examples of interesting older characters in the media are few and far between. Youth is everything, we are told, and you should do everything you can to hold onto it. Hello rad dads.
But there is so much that is great about getting old. Knowledge, experience, self-confidence and less hormonal madness greet us in older age and help us form relationships and create work that we are proud of. As the hubris of youth fades, a raw, often humorous, honesty can flourish unguarded. Our older generations have lived through social, political, and technological changes that we can’t even imagine and there is so much to learn from their perspective.
So at a time when we treat age like a sickness and, shamefully, allow loneliness to be the biggest killer of our older generation, it’s refreshing to see artists looking to redress the balance. And where better for most to start, than in the comforts of their own home. There is something fascinating about the way a person photographs their own family; it can be intimate to the point of uncomfortable and unselfconscious as well as tender.
These are some projects about grandparents we’ve come across in recent months that should challenge the antiquated attitude we have towards antiquity.
Sarker Protick – What Remains
Bangladeshi photographer Sarker Protick started photographing his grandparents after he noticed a beautiful white light in their apartment one afternoon. He told Verve Photo: “They always loved the fact that I took pictures of them, because then I spend more time with them and they didn’t feel lonely anymore. After Prova passed away, I try to visit more so John can talk. He tells me stories of their early life, and how they met. There are so many stories. Here life is silent, Everything is suspended. A wait for something that I don’t completely understand.”
Blondey McCoy – Home is the Hero
In his recent exhibition Home is the Hero skater, artist and designer Blondey McCoy explored the smutty history of Soho, where he lives and works, by distorting found materials through sculpture, collage, and his own writings. In the back room of the exhibition was a video he created of his Lebanese grandparents in their London living room, talking about their journey to the capital and their first experiences of the city. McCoy focuses on quiet moments of everyday domesticity that show a moving insight into greater questions about life, love and cultural identity.
Alejandro Kirchuk –
Never Let You Go
Argentinian photographer Alejandro Kirchuk photographed the last years of his grandmother’s life to document the effect Alzheimer’s was having not just on her but on her partner/carer, Alejandro’s grandfather. In the images, like the one below, the grandfather is shown with dignity, tending and caring for his wife as a man a quarter of his age might do.
Liza Chukhlantseva – The Dinner at Basements and Garrets is Served
Russian photographer Liza Chukhlantseva travelled back to her native Kazan to photograph her grandparents, Tanya and Volodya, who for the past 20 years have fed the stray dogs and other animals in the neighbourhood. She juxtaposes these images with her own childhood drawings to compare and contrast the values of either generation, which, unsurprisingly, don’t differ all that much.
Benjamin Murphy – Casa
Welsh photographer Benjamin Murphy has been photographing his Italian and Welsh grandparents for two or three years for an exhibition, launching in Swansea Jan 11 at Cinema & Co, which will compare and contrast the different heritages. Many Italians came to Wales in the middle of the Twentieth Century to work for the booming mining industry at the time and set up businesses – ice cream parlours, coffee shops, pizzerias – which give the celtic country a continental tone.