The Giant by Jeff Wall. From :Museomagazine.com
I had heard of Jeff Wall before, who has not, he is one of those names on everyone's lips, at least everyone who claims to have a passing interest in photography. But I had never seen The Giant, a work made by Wall in 1992, until it was shown by Margaret Gullette in a recent presentation at the London College of Fashion last October in which she made an impassioned plea for a change in the way older people are portrayed in photographic works.
Photographer: Sy Ojalla. Model: myselfThe Giant shows an old woman, naked, on a library staircase, holding a scrap of paper in her hand and intent on examining it. She is tall and erect and looks as if she belongs to the land of Gulliver's Brobdingnagians. Around her there are people going about their business, all much smaller than she is. It is obvious that this effect was achieved through digital manipulation, but this is not what I wish to dwell upon. The woman's white/grey hair is tied in a knot, her breasts are large and heavy, her skin sags in places, her muscles show a hint of wastage: her body is marked by some clear signs of old age. But her posture and overall poise are such that there is a sense of great dignity associated with her nakedness, which also marks her vulnerability. She is, undoubtedly, the focal point of this composition.
Anca Cristofovici suggests that through this picture a complete inversion is achieved by the photographer in the way we look at old age: "we might, then, read this image of an older woman's body framed by an irregular pattern as an ironic transcendence of age, for despite the unabashed display of her naked body, the composition of the work turns the viewer's attention towards inner spaces. Its syncopated visual rhythms echo the conflicts between internal and external perceptions of age".
Photographer: Anna Nicholas Model: myself
Last August I wrote a post for the Model Society blog, about older bodies in photography.
I am repeating myself here. But I think it is important we start rethinking our obsession with youth. Photographic images of older people which defy the convention of portraying them as decrepit will help to make this change.
The title of this blog post has been borrowed from one of the chapters in Anca Cristofovici's book Touching surfaces. Photographic aesthetics, temporality, aging (2009)