WHY I LOVE PHOTOGRAPHING OUR MATRIARCHS AND PATRIARCHS
Old. Elderly. Senior. Mature. Golden Years. So many of the labels for our parents and grandparents’ generations are loaded and filled with connotations, be they positive or negative. When I decided to write this piece I actually sought advice on what the most acceptable terms are and what people would search for when seeking a photographer and there was no clear consensus. Regardless of the words used I love taking these kinds of images. It seems it really in a case that a picture paints a thousand words.
THE FIVE THINGS I MOST ENJOY ABOUT
SESSIONS INVOLVING “OLDER PEOPLE”
1. They appreciate photography
Unlike those of us born within the last 50 years older members of our family didn’t grow up with a mobile phone in their pocket and photos being an everyday thing. Many of them might not have had family photos done as children and some didn’t even have a photographer on the day of their wedding. As such, they deeply value photos in a way that is just a little bit different and that is very, very precious.
2. They get a real buzz out of the experience
So often elderly members of our society report feelings of being a nuisance, a burden and being unseen. I have even had older individuals at sessions say “you don’t want to be photographing me, focus on the young ones”. But once they realise I genuinely want to spend time with them they really get into it and seeing them relax and their confidence grow is so, so rewarding. I’ve had family members genuinely be surprised at what they witness and they report that they see a totally different side of their elders when they are in front of the camera.
3. Their wrinkly skin and crinkly eyes
I am a lover of texture in my images, whether it is smooth, newborn baby skin or a knitted beanie or rug. And it goes double for the characteristics that go with ageing. Their photos with soft grey or white hair, age spots and swollen knuckles in their fingers tell such a story and are truly a visual representation of the lives they have lived. These things also look amazing in monochrome and as a long time lover of black and white it is artistic heaven for a photographer like me.
4. They have great stories and senses of humour
Throughout my sessions I always chat to my clients, both to put them at ease and to get to know them better. Some of the best responses to my questions and tales I am told come from the grandparents I photograph. They typically love a chat and I feel really honoured to listen to and learn from them.
5. Because these images are REALLY, REALLY important
This last one is a little bit morbid but it is very real. It never fails to surprise me how often I see posts in photography and editing groups from people asking for help after the death of a loved one. People post poor quality, old or out of focus images asking for help to edit or photoshop them because they do not have a single decent picture of their loved one to use on a funeral order of service or headstone. These requests just make me so sad so knowing my images mean a family I’ve worked with won’t be in this position one day is incredibly rewarding.
WHAT SORT OF SESSIONS DO YOU BOOK?
In 2021 I have been booked for couple, family and extended family sessions to take portraits to celebrate milestones such as an 80th birthday, a 90th birthday and both a 50th and a 60th wedding anniversary as well as sessions “just because”. Other potential catalysts for booking may be to mark retirement or before or after life changing medical treatment. If you find yourselves in a time critical or end-of-life situation I will work with you to fit you in as quickly as possible.
CAN WE BOOK OURSELVES IN?
Of course. Many of my clients, whilst “older” are very much still independent; financially, physically and mentally and book with me directly as opposed to it happening via a family member. One of the earliest enquiries I ever received read “We are a married couple in our sixties. Not sure if you would be interested in a couple our age. If this is not your thing that’s all ok.” I will THRILLED to work with this couple and loved that they wanted to do a session for themselves – couple shoots aren’t just for the young, newly engaged or just-married set. Whilst some aged in their sixties and beyond may be beginning to experience old age just as many are not and are fit, healthy, working and very much active and I love working with all individuals regardless of their specific circumstances.
CAN WE GIFT A SESSION? DO YOU DO VOUCHERS?
You can and I do. If there is sufficient time I will mail the voucher and a handwritten card from me to the recipient to you to gift to them. If the booking is more last minute I can provide a digital voucher and/or mail the voucher directly to the recipient along with a handwritten card with a message from you. As I have limits on how many clients I can accommodate each month I require that gifted sessions be purchased with a tentative session date which is then confirmed once the voucher has been gifted. This ensures that I can maintain the level of service I provide and retain the capacity to reschedule sessions in a timely manner when inclement weather occurs.
WE WANT TO BOOK BUT AREN’T SURE IF OUR FAMILY MEMBER/S WILL BE KEEN. WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST?
As lovely as surprises are photography may be one of those times when caution might be warranted. For lots of people being photographed is an awkward or uncomfortable proposition. This may be because of a bad experience in the past, because they are body conscious or maybe just because it is outside their comfort zone. For this reason if a session is your idea and not something they have requested or suggested it might be best to talk it over with them and even involve them in the process of selecting a photographer because the connection between the subject and the person behind the camera can make or break a session. Furthermore, each photographer has their own unique style of both shooting and editing so you want to try and select someone who can deliver on the vision of the recipient and this may require them viewing the photographer’s portfolio with you before booking.
OUR OLDER FAMILY MEMBER/S AREN’T TECHNOLOGY SAVVY.
IS THAT A PROBLEM?
Not at all. If they aren’t the client questionnaire and contract can be sent to someone within the family who is and they can complete them on behalf of the older family member, or jointly with them. The same can also then occur when the online gallery is ready for delivery. Conversely if your relative is across modern technology I will gladly complete these steps directly with them. For those who don’t understand digital downloads I can, upon request, provide a USB containing your selected images and there is also the option to order professional quality prints and artworks directly from your online gallery.
OUR RELATIVE HAS SOME MOBILITY OR HEALTH ISSUES.
CAN YOU ACCOMMODATE THAT?
I certainly can. I individually tailor each of my sessions and will take the time to discuss the needs, wishes and any limitations participants may have. I have a number of outdoor locations that have easy access whilst still being beautiful. If your family member is unable to leave home or is unable to manage unfamiliar, public locations I will work with you to plan a session either in their home or yours or at another spot known to them.
I THINK MY FAMILY MEMBER/S MIGHT NEED EXTRA HELP ON THE DAY.
CAN I ATTEND WITH THEM?
Absolutely. There are lots of reason why older clients might need some additional assistance from needing to be driven, requiring help to walk or move around, needing help with language and/or translating if English isn’t their first language to needing the comfort of a familiar face, particularly if they are anxious or suffering a condition such as dementia. If your presence is helping the creative process that’s great and if I suspect it isn’t and is making your relative awkward or self-conscious I will work with you all to keep things on track. I sometimes find older people, especially if we are taking couple shots, can be quite nervous about being openly affectionate. In cases like this I find it helpful to move right back and take some images either with my longer lens or through something like flowering bushes so they feel less under the microscope and in that case I would ask you to retreat with me. I would then invite you to move back in closer as soon as your assistance is needed.
DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS I HAVEN’T ANSWERED OR A SPECIAL REQUEST?
If you do please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me either via the contact form below or through my social media pages. I look forward to posting more about these types of sessions over the coming months.