The process, and the visible signs, of aging are often viewed negatively. The goal of this project is to help make us aware of the beauty, the positives, inherent in age. Autumn leaves, with their visual marks of time and decay, have a kind of beauty, and so does the human body and spirit.
This exhibit is part of what I hope to be an ongoing exploration of aging through a series of visual vignettes. The current exhibit is made up of three such vignettes: pairings of my body with autumn leaves, portraits of hands, and some of my friends at three points during their lives. Also included is a series of portraits of my wife, Ruby Friesen Zehr, at various times during her life.
About the leaf/body series:
Several years ago I became intrigued with autumn leaves close up. These leaves, which some consider past their prime, are in fact highly individual, evidencing the signs, the scars, the stories of their varied lives. Each has its own personality and history. Each has a certain beauty of form, texture, color, of perfection and imperfection.
I enjoy doing photographic portraits. I’m especially drawn to the intimacy of a close portrait – the textures, the individuality, the signs of a life lived that are apparent in a face. Like the leaves, people’s faces and personae have a certain beauty of form, texture, color, of perfection and imperfection.
So I set out to do with leaves something similar to what I do with portraits of people: to explore the individuality, the scars, the beauty of each individual. Rather than seek “perfect” specimens at their peak, I watched for leaves that showed signs of having lived and were now moving toward “death” or, more accurately, a new phase in the cycle of life. Many of these leaves came from my own yard.
It is probably no coincidence that I developed this interest about the time I qualified for social security. I have become increasingly aware of the process of aging and decided to embrace this process and treat the changes in my body with curiosity and respect, as a natural part of the cycle of life and death. I have found myself identifying with these leaves and am exploring parallels between these leaves and my body.
In her book, Seeing Trees, Nancy Ross Hugo also makes “a case for imperfect leaves and the information that can be gleaned from them” about their experiences. She notes that a quote from artist and writer Richard Bell can apply to leaves as well as to flowers: “Perfect blooms can leave me cold: I like a plant with a story.”
The leaves I’ve photographed each has a story, and so also does my body.
On the triptychs:
While living in Indiana in the 1980s, I asked a number of friends to provide photos of themselves from when they were about 12 years old. I then made a portrait of them in their 40’s and more recently, returned to photograph them in their 60’s or 70’s. (I still have some to track down.)
This project is made possible, in part, through a grant from the Arts Council of the Valley, Harrisonburg, VA.