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Reflections: Portraits of the Elderly Seeing Their Younger Selves

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When my grandmother was suddenly stricken by a massive stroke, my family had to make the heartbreaking decision to let her go. The doctor told us that even if she were to survive it, she wouldn’t be the person we knew. I remember thinking at that moment, ‘if you could only know what kind of woman she is!’ We all knew that it wouldn’t be fair to her to bring her back in a way that wouldn’t allow her to live her life her way.

I spent the next four or so days staying in her hospital room. I listened to her breathe and even snore at times, as she went deeper and deeper into the blackness. I held her hand through the night so that if anything had happened while I was asleep, I’d feel her and wake up.

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Every time a nurse would come in to turn my grandmother over to the other side, I felt this overwhelming need to tell them all about her. To make sure that they understood that the frail little old lady in the bed was a spitfire of a woman.

I’d wish that I had my photo albums to pull out and show them all the photographic evidence of her alive and smiling and dancing and being Audrey. To show her living in some of the most amazing places in the world. To show the crazy things she had done and seen in life.

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It was so important to me that everyone that came into the room, that didn’t know her, understand that Audrey Hand was a force in this world, and more importantly, in my world. I didn’t want her to just be another 80-year-old woman slowly dying under a pink blanket.

When she did pass on, which happened after my family finally convinced me to leave and go back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothes, I remember looking into the other rooms that lined the hallway of the wing as I walked back to her room.

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Every bed was filled with an old person. I wondered what their stories were, who were they in their lifetimes? I had wished that their loved ones had brought in photo albums chronicling their lives so that we could see more than the tiny bodies in the beds.

I’ve always been fascinated with age and aging, with everything in between the beginning and end. With my newborn photography, I wonder what kind of lives these little clean slates will have as they grow up. When I see older people, I wonder what they’ve seen, and what they were like when they were younger. What were their greatest and worst experiences in life?

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As photographers, we have this wonderful opportunity of being able to stop time and preserve it. To capture a moment that we can then hold on to forever, no matter what the outcome may be down the line.

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When I recently saw a photo series entitled Reflections, I was struck by how the images conveyed that sense nostalgia for a time that some might consider the halcyon days of their life. I reached out to the series creator, Dallas-based photographer Tom Hussey, and asked him about the origins and inspiration for this series.

Here’s what he shared:

I don’t care how old you are, when you look into a mirror, you think of yourself as younger than you are. You have a memory of a time in your life that was pivotal — be it when you got your drivers license, your senior year in High School, or maybe the year you married.

The “Reflections” advertising campaign was based on a portfolio shoot I made to illustrate this thought. The idea hit me as I was talking with a WWII veteran named Gardner about his life experiences. He was about to celebrate his 80th birthday.

He commented that he didn’t understand how he could be 80 years old as he felt he was still a young man. He just didn’t feel it was possible he could be 80 years old. I started thinking about a milestone age approaching for me, as I was nearing 40. I realized that everyone thinks of themselves at a certain age or time in life.

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Based on that conversation, I built a bathroom set and photographed Gardner staring into his bathroom mirror and seeing himself as a 25-year-old young man. I used the resulting image of Gardner as my Workbook ad that year.

Some years later, an ad agency in New York City used my Workbook ad as a concept. Based on that earlier portfolio image, I was awarded a job for an Alzheimer’s drug called the Exelon Patch made by Novartis. The Exelon Patch helps patients maintain long-term memories during the early stages of that horrific disease.

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I was fortunate to be included in a lot of the early concept stages for the campaign. I knew immediately location scouting and casting were going to be very important to evoke the emotions associated with the disease. The campaign has been extremely successful for the promotion of the brand and people universally responded to the images.

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After we shot the campaign, the images went into testing and legal review. They were so well received that the images, all 10 of them, were printed full-page in the brochures and other collateral. The whole project was a great experience — working with great people at the ad agency, the client, and with a great crew.

To see more of Tom’s work and his other photo series, visit his website.


Image credits: Photographs by Tom Hussey and used with permission.


 
  • David Garoutte

    I love these photos and the story behind them. Thanks for creating and bringing them to us.

  • Ai Chusyu

    Its so wonderfully done!!

  • Eugene Chok

    great stuff

  • http://identitycrisisstudio.com/ Jared Ribic

    More people should be doing work like this. This is really cool!

  • Sterling

    Great idea and well executed.

  • Gloria Hemingway Johnson

    About 5 years ago I wrote a poem called “The Reflection” which I have shared with my family and friends. Tonight my husband found this article and pictures that you have put together and it immediately reminded him of my poem which I am forwarding to you. Gloria Hemingway-Johnson

    When I look in the mirror, the woman I see
    Is not the girl that lives within me.
    The person I know is younger than that.
    She’s trim and attractive and not all that fat.
    The person I see is mature and alive
    Ambitious, flamboyant and has lots of drive.
    She’d love to go dancing, be able to sing
    wants this not to be winter but rather her spring
    The lines on the face in the mirror I see
    are just on the glass and not part of me.
    The silver that shines in that lady’s hair
    on the person I know they just aren’t there.
    I’d give my eye teeth for the world to see
    the pretty woman that lives inside me

  • Shree

    …. very touching

  • Jordan Butters

    Fantastic concept and impeccably executed.

  • Mark Driggers

    Very Interesting & True!!!
    When I look in the mirror….it is hard to realize the person staring back at me is turning 48 in a little over 2 1/2 months. Yikes…where did the time go…how did it sneak up on me and pass me like it has? I still see that scared, little kid, the one who wanted to please everyone else, who wanted and tried to be what everyone else thought he should be. I still remember those feelings like they were yesterday (maybe I’ve even carried them with me a little through the years). When I look close, I see the little wrinkles here and there, the worry that life has worn into my older self, the person who has lost way too many family and friends through the years, etc. At the same time, I see a more confident person, a person who believes more in himself, who knows it’s nice to have other’s approvals….but, even GREATER to approve of himself. When I see that older self in the mirror, I see more wisdom than that younger person could even fathom….I see that that older self also realizes that the older he gets, the more he realizes the less he really knows.
    And just where do you see yourself?

  • pganja

    Good idea and nicely executed, but why is the eye contact always with the young version? Is the youth image to posetive?

  • Mark Driggers

    Beautiful!!!

  • ScarlettFeverr

    This is fascinating! And I am dying to know HOW these were done! This seems like it would be very hard to pull off.

  • Beachlover

    Awesome Gloria! When my wife of 35 yrs slipped from my hands after braving BC for 7 years I was inspired to write one too… “Through The Mirror In Your Room” hospital room that is… nice work! Joe

  • Diane Magnusson

    Thank you, thank you! Your powerful pictures and story brought me to tears. I’m just over sixty, but a recent stroke caused me to reflect some of the thoughts and questions you shared. Where has my life gone? Again, thank you.

  • April King

    Gloria, simply beautiful and thank you for sharing :-)

  • Randal Burton

    Brilliant!

  • BlueInGreen48

    I’m in my sixties and look in the mirror several times a day. Perhaps, somewhere below the conscious level, I’m thinking of my younger self (selves). But on the conscious level I’m brushing my teeth, deciding how I look in the clothes I’m in, washing my face, putting on my tie, trying on different hats or making sure my shirt’s tucked in. This is an interesting project, the photographs are moving, but the notion that every glance in the mirror has these profound implications is kind of silly.

  • Rosalie Ritzema

    Great job. You really captured the feelings that accompany aging. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ramona D’Souza

    Good job! love the photo’s

  • pattieone

    This almost made me cry.At 94 my mum had several mini strokes which resulted in her losing control over her speech. She knew what she wanted to say, but it came out garbled, using the three languages she could speak. She ended up in hospital where no one knew who she was. In fact they asked if she was a new arrival in our country. She had been a soprano soloist, she raised 6 wonderful women, she cared, she loved but no one knew that and she was treated as just another patient. She was alone and afraid. In the end we took her home to those who loved her and knew her, and knew what she had been during her lifetime. She died, 2 weeks after her 95th birthday, surrounded by her family in my sisters home. Thank you so much for posting this. It’s very touching.

  • pattieone

    Brilliant…I think we all feel like that. I want to shout out! No! this isn’t me. I’m the girl who loved to laugh, dance, tell jokes, flirt, have fun, walk, jump, run. When I look in the mirror it’s not who I am. The truth is what we are is inside us, and we can only let it shine through as much as we can.

  • pattieone

    beautifully said Mark

  • pattieone

    I don’t think the author/artist meant that every single time we look in the mirror that these images are evoked. I think the idea is to show who we were when we were younger and looked better, and perhaps were more fulfilled in who we were and what we did.

  • BlueInGreen48

    I suppose I’m reacting to the assumption that life was better when we were younger. Mine wasn’t.

  • pattieone

    That’s an interesting perspective. Hadn’t thought of that. I guess the author is talking more about people meeting someone when they are old, and know nothing of their history, They just see that person as an old nobody, when they may have lived amazingly productive lives.
    Thanks for your perspective. I hope your life is better now.

  • BlueInGreen48

    I’m in my mid-sixties. My life as I know it didn’t take shape until twenty years ago. If I’m healthy enough I’d like to work another ten years. Whether that happens or not my life is happening now, in this moment. As a society we seem to have the notion that for older people life has already happened and that what’s left consists of thinking about the past when life was presumably better simply because they were younger. Assuming that wisdom is possible (and desirable) and that it comes from experience, one will never be wiser than at the present moment, whatever one’s age. That’s why I think the aged are revered in many cultures, though not this one.