Artist Statement – Aging in White

Between the years if 1981 and 1985 I photographed elderly people both in and out of nursing homes. The photographs in this series were taken in three nursing homes, a memorial home and homes of individuals.

The project was not about specific individuals or institutions. Rather it represented my perception of what it must be like for a person growing old in contemporary America. I attempted to confront the positive and negative aspects of growing old as well as the relationships they have with their environments. I had no intention of speaking out against nursing homes. There is a genuine need for them. However, while recognizing the necessary services they provide I believe we must find ways to improve the means our society uses to help and care for the elderly, whether in nursing homes or not.

I had two goals for this project. The first a non-photographic goal was to spend time with the subjects and directly care for them, hopefully bringing some joy or comfort into their lives. The second was to make photographic images, which might have inspired some to act on behalf of the elderly individually or on a grander scale.

At times I have felt our society has forgotten the elderly, forgotten their wisdom, needs and, contributions. I believe we have a responsibility to help others including our elders. Often it seems easier to forget the elderly in need. If compassion and empathy for others is not enough to make us act then I suggest we remember that we too shall grow old.

All of the prints in this project were 5”x7” contact prints made in the nineteenth century hand coated Platinum/Palladium process. I chose this presentation in an attempt to draw the viewer in intimately to consider the images.

Looking back on the project years later I am now appreciative of the photographs. However, I must say the most successful accomplishments I made towards helping the subjects lives were through spending time with them as a caring acquaintance and by teaching instant photography courses in the nursing home.

John Willis

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