Tips of Respectfully Photographing the Elderly

They’re coming up with a “day” for just about anything of late, some being silly like “Talk Like a Pirate Day” but others are serious and give one to pause and reflect. One to note is “Respect for the Aged Day.” Humans have the tendency to stereotype just about all types of other humans and even the most liberal and enlightened are guilty of this.

When it comes to photographing old people, it’s easy to gravitate to low hanging fruit, and you can see this just by looking at funny greeting cards in the card section of a store. Toothless grins, jokes about not being able to “do it,” or just being forgetful.

There is a fine line at being able to laugh at ourselves versus perpetuating undesirable stereotypes. When photographing older people, you can still capture the beauty in their faces, show them as strong and productive people, and yes, even as loving, caring, and sexually active beings.

To photograph the elderly in a positive way, you can produce images showing them to be active and enjoying various activities. Gardening, doing arts and crafts, going for walks, playing cards, seniors are busy and active, and your photography can reflect this. Older people can be caring, loving, and physical lovers. Growing old does not mean losing interest in the things that other people enjoy and losing interest in relationships. They can be very much part of a family and images showing these personal bonds can be very powerful.

Despite what time does to the body, elderly people still have pride for who they are and what they have accomplished. A good photographer knows how to capture the essence and emotion of a person regardless of age rather than resorting to focusing on the defects.

Images of old people who are bent over, crippled, and deformed with time can evoke strong emotions by the viewer but does it always have to be done in a way that begs for sympathy? The hobbling old man or woman may be suffering and can be sad but at the same time do you see the person who is fighting the inevitable and struggling to remain independent? There can be an ugliness to growing old, but your photography could instead capture the spirit of someone who is determined to have one more day and then work at beating the odds again tomorrow.

Regardless, the brick wall eventually comes where an active person has to face the reality of being confined to a rocking chair, debilitating health issues, or losing their independence. In these cases, the individuals may be reduced to being limited as to what they can do. You can still photograph who the person really is. You can do this by remembering the person in front of you is a person and not someone who has become irrelevant. End of life issues is something we all face and there is very little you can do to make it a positive experience, but it is a legitimate topic and one that should be photographed, but it can be done well if your images portray a sense of dignity.

Still, growing old and being old can be humorous. We live in an era where no matter what you say or do, you will find a group of people who are offended and if taken far enough, a situation can make the 6:00 news. It is unfortunate that we are becoming a global community where we are unable to laugh at ourselves and our differences without offending those who feel emboldened to force their will upon others.

But if you’re going to photograph any demographic, such as old people, is it really funny to have a toothless old fool on a greeting card who is supposed to be your date for the night? Defining what is respectful and what is not respectful may be a question that can never really be answered, but perhaps it’s more about understanding and realizing that old people are still people. They want to be active, independent, and loving, the same as anyone else, and these are things that everyone wants which makes all these desires ageless.

Let your photography of old people reflect this.

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