Using imagery to embrace aging

December 1, 2011 | By Getty Images | Community

Editor’s note: The author of this post, Barbara Alper, was named as a 2011 Getty Images Grants for Good finalist.  Her work has appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Time, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal, and her proposal to partner with Green Team Advertising and Lifeforce in Later Years (LILY) along with her powerful imagery (an excerpt from her submission accompanies this post) impressed our Grants for Good judges this year. Our 2012 call for entries will be launching soon… stay tuned.


(Photo by Barbara Alper)

Marge at 90 with friend Sheila-Photo Courtesy of Barbara Alper-2011 Getty Images Grants for Good Finalist

(Photo by Barbara Alper)

Marge at 88-Photo Courtesy of Barbara Alper 2011 Getty Images Grants for Good Finalist-1

(Photo by Barbara Alper)

Aging. We’re all going to – if we’re lucky, some better than others.  Yet we still can’t even come up with the right word for those who already have.

Senior, older, old, elder, elderly, mature.  Our society, ads and publications are geared to the young, beautiful and hip, not toward old people.  The prevailing attitude is that aging isn’t pretty, and yet there’s a large and rapidly growing aging population that doesn’t get much notice or attention.  In pop culture, except for Betty White, old people are rarely represented as who they really are.

These are our parents, the people who raised us and helped guide us to become who we are now.  I wanted to find a way to give back to them by helping our older people as they become frail and have a harder time getting by on their own.  Seemed like the right thing to do.

In my neighborhood there are a lot of people aging in their homes, and who would like to remain at home as long as possible. These familiar surroundings help them feel stronger, vibrant, independent – all things that keep them alive, and that’s how they want to remain as long as they possibly can.  There are, of course, circumstances that can make that impossible at a certain point, but in the meantime they need help to keep their dignity and remain independent.  Many have families that live too far away to help while others have none.

As soon as I learned of a new volunteer organization that began in my neighborhood, I immediately got involved.  It’s called Morningside Village.  Each volunteer visits an older person once a week.  Sometimes that means taking them shopping, to the drugstore, for a walk or just sitting with them and keeping them company for an hour.  I visit a 93-year-old woman.  She was 91 when I first met her and she was able to move about pretty well.  That’s becoming more difficult for her now and she needs our help more than ever, but her positive attitude and words of wisdom are inspiring.  Her appreciation alone is very rewarding.

I suspect that part of the reason I have an affinity for old people and am drawn to them stems from having two parents of advanced age.  Through them, I had the opportunity to closely witness and photograph the transitions people go through in the process of growing old.  I had always photographed them, from the time I began to seriously take photographs over 30 years ago.  After my father died nearly 13 years ago, and my mother gave up her house and moved to assisted living, I decided I needed to photograph her and what life there was like, for her and her neighbors.  Over that period, until her death at 95, I witnessed her go from the lively, funny, sweet, vibrant woman that she was to a woman who needed total complete care.

It’s my intention to keep photographing older people to help make them more visible to the public.  We need to take notice and not avert our eyes when we see an old person on the street, and as a society we need to offer help when someone needs it.

More posts by this author

  • Eliz-anne

    What a wonderfully sensitive and thoughtful approach, not only to a subject so often not thought ‘sexy’ enough, but towards people who hold so much richness of experience and wisdom that we can only benefit from embracing.

  • Melinda Alexanderd

    These are wonderful photos of the elderly women, congratulations. They’re very touching, especially of the two women together who look like they are possibly sisters.

  • barbara mensch

    these are soulful images of THAT stage of life we all fear and dread.. These are “tough” images.. and I don’t use that word lightly.. best regards Barbara Mensch

  • Barbara Alper

    I’d like to share this new 1/2 hour documentary in which I’m featured with one of the old people I visit and photograph. It tells the story of my work helping older people remain at home.