Editors' Note: "Wrinkles in Time: Beautiful Faces" was on exhibit at Pilgrim Place in 2012 – 2013. When Spirituality & Practice's directors Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat first visited the campus, they felt "greeted" by this exhibit and wanted to live among the people pictured there. (They have since 2015.)
The original exhibit consisted of black-and-white photos. For our gallery, Jean Lesher provided some of the color photographs taken at the time. Alison Stendahl, a newer resident, contributed more photos of beautiful faces with wrinkles.
Old is now cool. It has taken a lot of hard-living but there are finally enough of us that marketing efforts are directed specifically to older people. Even haute couture magazines are putting gorgeous silver-haired beauties on their covers, and some adventuresome clothes lines are recognizing that our gravity shaped bodies prefer something more stylish than sweat suits or muumuus.
An idea of mine is doing its part to make old more acceptable, and I hope it spreads. It came to me serendipitously while listening to a light classical concert — two violins and a cello — in a chapel a couple of blocks from Pilgrim Place, our retirement community in Claremont, California. Musing, I thought, “How beautiful this music is!” Then, “What is beautiful about our community?” Simultaneously, “The people! Beautiful faces! Wrinkles!” Then, "photos," and then, "an exhibit!"
I walked quickly home with visions of photos of my neighbors on an exhibit wall and rushed to talk with our resident head of the community art committee. She was interested and suggested a couple of local people who might be photographers for the project.
I made appointments and continued my passionate description of immortalizing faces of our beautiful aging friends in an exhibit. Everyone thought it a great idea but few wanted to be on another committee (we're busily active seniors). When I started asking if they would be consultants to this project, more agreed and suggested other names. Eventually I had a couple of photographers and an assistant to help arrange sittings.
During lunchtime announcements when our community was all together, I asked people to look around their tables, find faces that should be photographed, and fill out little nomination sheets with names. We got more than 100 names out of about 200 people in the room. Great! We were on our way. There were only a few grumbles about the term "wrinkles," but the word was catching on and nominees were men as well as women.
Touching to me were a couple of husbands who secretly turned in the names of their wives because "They really are beautiful but don't tell them I said so." Some wives also named be-whiskered husbands, "even if he doesn't have a lot of wrinkles."
A month later we had photos of nine people. I panicked. At this rate it would take months to get enough good photos for a nice exhibit. I cried to my little consultant group and started re-learning how to use my own seldom-used digital camera. We figured we needed cameras with at least eight megapixels for sharpness, a tripod, and a black board behind each face to have continuity and to make grey and white hair stand out.
By the third month there were four of us, counting me, and we had a plan. Each photographer would submit two or three photos of each subject and then the group would select favorites on a numbered ballot from small prints on a wall: a vote by numbers, not subjective selections of favorite friends. Then we got five and finally six photographers (including the head of our art committee). Wow! We came up with 138 photos of about 95 subjects, 24 men and 61 women, that could be appropriate.
Our art committee head decided she wanted to crop and edit our favorite photos to exhibit standards in a square format, black and white. Another talented resident — and art collector and framer — designed the panels for the exhibit, which was to be held in a community meeting room, where it could easily be seen by residents and visitors to Pilgrim Place.
Excitement built as more and more residents became willing to be photographed and suggested more names. I started seeing every face through a camera lens and each was worthy — if we could only capture the lovely spirit of these people in a print. As one of our consultants said, that would be a serendipitous shot. I took about 20 shots of one person and of these, one was declared the best pose for the exhibit. We all voted for her face, and we also saw several others as interesting and truthful.
We decided to name the exhibit "Wrinkles in Time: Beautiful Faces," a la Madeleine L'Engle's famous book, A Wrinkle in Time. We aimed to have an opening reception in October. In November the community was sponsoring a big Festival; family and village residents usually came, and they could also see the prints.
The Grand Opening was over the top! I told the story of how the idea emerged. The photos were mounted in two rows with white frames on black backboard panels, all at eye level. Community residents were thrilled to see such fascinating photographs of their friends; I got more congratulations than I did on my wedding day 55 years earlier. It was a huge success — but then how could it not be when friends could view friends as art-photo-exhibit-quality people, with really beautiful faces?
Every retirement community in America should present such an exhibit of their residents in honor of the true beauty of age. I say let thousands of photos bloom and as many coordinators. It can really be fun.