In Ending Ageism: or How Not to Shoot Old People, Margaret Morganroth Gullette wrote, “Art that is compassionate, knowledgeable, or merely instinctively resistant to decline culture steps up the pace of change.” Though she isn’t familiar with Margaret Morganroth Gullette’s work, Beryl Woodrow’s photography seems to be the crystallization of Gullette’s project to create a new vision of aging.
Of Love and Home is an ongoing photographic series documenting the lives of 80- and 90-year-old couples who continue to live in their own homes. Beryl Woodrow bucks the trend of mainstream culture, depicting energetic older couples surrounded by evidence of their accomplishments and their involvement in their communities. Woodrow explores how these couples maintain their independence and purpose given the inevitable challenges that come with age. As the project grew, she was inspired to create a record of the couples’ worlds, filled, in her words, “with meaningful pursuits, creativity, and love of home and each other.”
Woodrow spent time listening to her subjects’ stories as she documented facets of their lives at home, while also reflecting on cultural assumptions about the elderly. Her subjects are Canadian, middle class, from a wide range of professions, and mentally astute. The resulting series straddles the boundary between portraiture, social documentary, and visual narrative, contemplating the possibilities of what it can mean to be elderly in the twenty-first century.
A Brief Interview with Beryl Woodrow
BIFOCAL: Who influenced you as a photographer?
BW: For this particular series, it is the American photographer Larry Sultan’s exhibition and consequent photo book called Pictures from Home.
BIFOCAL: Why did you choose to focus on older couples as the subjects of your work?
BW: My interest in photographing elder couples began as a documentary photography project at Emily Carr University of Art and Design (Vancouver, Canada). In 2012, I began photographing my neighbours, Marg, 89, and Don, 93, who have lived in their home for 53 years. With health issues and accommodation challenges that are a natural part of aging, I was interested in exploring through photography how elder couples are able to maintain their independence in their own home and how they establish meaning in their lives. I was also especially interested in how they support each other. My experience with Marg and Don was both inspiring and uplifting, eschewing all stereotypes and as a result led me to continue photographing elder couples as opportunity arose.