Perhaps more than in any of its previous iterations, this year’s Aging As Art photo exhibit is a welcome observation and appreciation of growing old.
This is the fourth year for the project sponsored by the Council on Aging – Southern California. And, as with almost every aspect of life in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic looms over it like a specter.
The story of aging during a pandemic isn’t told only in the particular photos (among a total of 90 portraits, all of older people) that reference COVID-19, a disease whose death toll is particularly high among the aging and the infirm and that has forced older people into stricter isolation. It also plays out in the way the collection serves as a stunning, visual reminder of the vital role older people hold in society. It’s even in the photos that show how the joys and sorrows of life remain precious at any age.
“2020 is a year of reflection,” said Lisa Wright-Jenkins, president and chief executive officer of Council on Aging – Southern California.
“We are pondering our time together.”
The black-and-white and color images, shot by amateur and professional photographers, are on display at the Newport Beach Public Library through Dec. 15. And, this year, for the first time, the collection can be seen at John Wayne Airport, a much desired venue by the Council on Aging.
While only ticketed travelers will be able to view the 65 photos at the airport, and the pandemic has suppressed airport traffic, the broader exposure represents a big step forward, Wright-Jenkins said.
“It’s like my dream come true to have this there.”
Also, because of the pandemic, this year’s edition of the annual photographers reception, held at Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, was a virtual event. The display of Aging As Art photos, also at the museum, has been rescheduled to next spring.
But you can go online to see the winning photos — 1st place through Honorable Mentions in both categories, as well as the rest of the jury-selected images culled from among 355 submissions by visual artists around the country. It’s at the Council on Aging website, coasc.org/events/aging-as-art.
Some of the photos on display include brief but telling notations about the subject or the situation.
Said Wright-Jenkins: “It’s a launching pad of understanding.”
The photos reflect the lives of older people from Southern California and around the world.
The image that took 1st Place in the professional photographer category is of a balding, white-haired man out for a swim at a small artificial lake in Armenia.
The man is seen from behind, lowering himself into the water. The sun reflects off his bald scalp and highlights the ring of hair that rims his head. His shadow is behind him but his daily ritual is ahead of him, in the rippling waves.
Rouzanna Berberian, an artist/painter who lives in Monrovia and teaches digital photography at South Pasadena High, snapped the photo on the fly with her iPhone 6s during a visit last year to the capital of Yerevan in her native country.
Berberian titled it “Fit and Consistent.”
The park, Berberian said, is a place where elderly people go for a morning stroll and to spend time together. Every time she visited, Berberian would see the man, who she guessed to be in his 70s, swimming alone in the lake.
She never got a chance to talk to him, but park regulars told her this has been the man’s ritual since the 1980s.
“They just told me, ‘Oh, he’s crazy. He swims in the water, winter and summer.’”
The man’s passion and endurance — along with her fascination for light and shadows — compelled Berberian to take his picture.
“He had no idea. A second later, he was in the water.”
She had hoped to reach out to the man and share the photo on a visit again this year, but the pandemic disrupted her travel plans. So, next year, hopefully on the other side of COVID-19, Berberian will take him the news that his image earned a $1,000 prize (which she donated to the Armenia Fund and other charitable causes) and might have been seen by millions.
Jeffrey Frisch, arts program coordinator at John Wayne for the past 23 years, said it is difficult to estimate how many travelers might see the Aging As Art display that was installed in August on the other side of security checkpoints.
Frisch said the exhibition received a unanimous recommendation from the five-member JWA Arts Commission. It was his job to curate the images from current and past years of Aging As Art.
“Each photograph selected for this exhibition was chosen for its strong and varied expression of artistry, composition and diverse human interests,” said Frisch, 77, who is a studio artist.
The talent among the amateur photographers especially impressed Frisch, who called the level of their accomplishment “the most thought provoking and inspirational aspect of the photography in this exhibit.”
All the photos in Aging As Art represent hope to Berberian.
Older people can take joy in images of their peers laughing and dancing; courage from seeing them comfort each other or confront painful moments.
“Instead of thinking ‘we are in quarantine, we’re going to die,’ it can give them hope of what it can be after Covid,” Berberian said.
Younger people can come away with a different point of view on aging. Berberian, 49, said she is not afraid of growing old. She doesn’t dye her graying hair, for example. It’s an attitude that reflects her upbringing in Armenia, where, she said, older people are revered for their wisdom.
“Seeing these people through a different lens, the artist’s lens, helps to shed light that aging is full of life, full of beauty.”
How to see Aging As Art in person
Newport Beach Central Library: Runs through Dec. 15 on the second level of the Central Library, 1000 Avocado Ave., Newport Beach. Hours are Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Occupancy capacity is 100 people at any time; face masks are required. Don’t be confused by the end date listed at newportbeachlibrary.org. The exhibit was extended.
John Wayne Airport: Open only to ticketed passengers. The Vi Smith Concourse Gallery has two locations on the other side of security checkpoints — between Gates 2-5 in Terminal A and Gates 18-21 in Terminal C. Through mid- to late March.
Source: Orange County Register