Erica Lansner, photographer, has contributed immensely to LiLY and the development of its visibility campaign including Love An Elder. Best known for her portraiture and portrays of everyday life around the world, Erica Lansner brings to her all her work a vision that is intimate, emotional, and sympathetic. An award-winning photojournalist, she has traveled to more than 35 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa on assignment for leading international magazines and corporations.
Photographer, Eliud Martinez, shares a selection of portraits from his personal project -“RETRATOS: Faces of Los Pioneros” which memorializes the faces and lives of Latino elders in varying stages of their aging process.
Some still vital, healthy fully productive citizens, while others have come to varying stages of disability requiring support to continue living independently in their communities. I was a clinical service provider directly involved in providing such support.
This project is a meditative reflection on aging as a process as well as the process of normal and abnormal declines in memory ranging from everyday forgetfulness to the “long good-bye” of Alzhiemers’ syndrome. These images reflect on the nature of identity and the daily miracle of waking up in the morning re-remembering who we are…….
Memory is the basic stuff that anchors our conscious being in time and space…… It’s the link to where we’ve just been, even a few hours ago. Unique to all sentient beings, human memory also mediates our existential awareness of what we’re all moving toward……. our humanity, our spiritual journey……our mortality.
Some have mused that, with any luck and longevity, impending mortality can become an advisor that sits on ones shoulder nudging us towards the better part of wisdom…. Sometimes, simply stirring us awake to the moment. In “Tuesdays with Morrie” (www.randomhouse.com/features/morrie/ ) there’s a cute story about this.
A little wave bobbing along in the great ocean….having a grand old time…..notices that the waves in front were crashing against the shore. ‘My God, this is terrible’, the wave says. Look what’s going to happen to me! Another wave comes along and says: ‘Why do you look so sad? The first wave says: ‘you don’t understand, we’re all going to crash!…..All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn’t this terrible?’ The second wave says: ‘No, you don’t understand……. You’re not a wave, you’re part of the ocean.’…….
Over time, this project has personally been about this encounter and processing the experience of feeling like just such a tiny evanescent “wave” in a vast ocean of humanity. As some of my elder friends have passed, these images have become celebrations of life in the face of the inevitable losses on our journeys.
On a very personal note, this body of work is also a tribute to my Puerto Rican family and the memory of my parents, Genara S. Otaño and Juan Ramon Martinez Rodriguez.
Beyond this, my dear friend and muse, Don Alfonso Rodriguez, (now deceased) was a pivotal inspiration to do this project. I remember taking a photo of him one afternoon when he was too tired to receive me in his living room. The afternoon sunlight coming through the window of his bedroom was so beautifully golden that I had to ask him if he minded being photographed as he layed there…..he stirred, opened his eyes and told me it was OK (“Mijo, seguro que si”).
After taking this particular image, I had a profound encounter with who Don Alfonso had come symbolize for me. When I’ve seen Don Alfonso clearly, as I did here, I didn’t see a 97 year old man. I saw the wholeness of his nature… a young man whose future had come to pass… all in the blink of an eye… and I was there to take this picture as the blinking eye opened in the future.
I thank and acknowledge him as well as our elder friends and neighbors from the greater Latin American community and beyond. This work especially acknowledges the children, spouses, professional caretakers and service agencies that make it possible for some of our disabled elders to continue living in their own homes.
To say the very least, our elders are deserving of at least adequate healthcare, basic recreational comforts, the dignity and veneration for all their contributions to world we have today.
The saddest part is the lack of political and societal will to provide resources to make this possible for many of our elderly. More than 50% of all Americans will experience poverty in their golden years. The 2002 poverty rate among US Hispanic elderly (65 and older) was 21.4 percent. Compared to other elderly in the US population), they are twice as likely to be living within established poverty levels. ( USDHHSwww.aoa.gov/prof/Statistics/minority_agi ng/Facts-on-Hispa… )
It’s sadder still, because politically driven definitions and poverty statistics often under-report actual poverty levels “on the ground”. Whatever the methodological or other reasons may be, they serve to lessen the culpability and shame of the established political and social order for this growing crisis. No surprise there, …..another catastrophe hidden in plain sight, eh?
David Levy Strauss wrote that “If photography is ‘literally an emanation of the referent,’ then photography can conceivably be used to let things speak for themselves….” Though these images are accompanied by text, the strength and character in these faces tell their own unique story.
In so many ways, known and unknown, our elders are extraordinary, unsung heros, leaders, workers among workers, dreamers, mentors, nurturers….”Pioneros”…. Yes, our collective cultural memory.
Beryl is a photojournalist based in New York City. Ms. Goldberg has photographed in many countries of Africa, Latin America. Asia and Europe as well as the United States. “My goal is to portray the lives of the people I photograph with honor and respect.” She is a valued friend of LiLY and lead a photoshoot of a first Love An Elder Day party on a hot Morningside Village rooftop.