International Day of Older Persons

Behind the scenes of Old Stock New Stock

Happy International Day of Older Persons! To mark this important day we are sharing a behind the scenes video from ‘Old Stock, New Stock’, a photographic exhibition which formed part of our recent project The Golden Years Caravan.

Old Stock, New Stock is a collaboration between Art with Heart, photographer Joe Smith, facilitator Jenny Harris and women from the Apna Ghar day centre, part of Ambition for Ageing in Rochdale.

Watch our short film ‘Old Stock New Stock: behind the scenes’ by clicking here.

Fab, now tell me more about Old Stock, New Stock! Okay…

The Golden Years caravan exhibition, displaying portraits, conversation corner, the caravan for films and an activity tent

Last year Rachel suggested her Gran join a social group at her local church. Her Gran wasn’t keen; “I don’t think so love, it will be full of old people”. Rachel’s Gran is 90 next year. It got Rachel thinking that if her Gran thinks of ‘old people’ this way, what about the rest of us? What do we think about ageing?

After talking with older family, friends and community members, Art with Heart decided to start exploring wider perceptions of ageing. The Golden Years Caravan, was a way of kicking off that conversation. It’s a space that seeks to challenge stereotypes by creatively showcasing the voices of older people, and it does it right in the heart of our local communities.

We spent a lot of time researching representations of retirement and old age in society. The results were depressing: we noticed the same stereotypes repeated over and over. When we started to question how these stereotypes were being perpetuated, we realised that stock images (widely used in marketing and media) were a big part of the problem.

The current crop of stock images relating to retirement and older people is clinical, clean and very white (in every sense). Search ‘retirement’ and it’s more extreme: an aspirational landscape of exotic beaches, sports cars and cruises. This assumes a level of affluence that for many of us does not reflect a relatable idea of retirement.

In collaboration with retired women from the Apna Ghar Day Centre in Rochdale, we set about creating a new kind of stock image. Over several weeks, these women turned their personal experiences of retirement (full of skills, passion and sharp wit) into a set of images designed to reflect retirement in a dynamic and realistic way.

Apna Ghar translates to ‘Our Home’ and Art with Heart would like to thank the women there who made us feel like part of the family. We are incredibly proud to share the results of this project with you.

Photo of an older white man and woman dancing on a beach. They are dressed in white linen.

Joe Smith, Photographer:

Nasim, an elder South Asian woman, is dressed in all white and stood dancing in front of a glittery curtain. She's wearing a gold glittery hat.

“I was tasked with working with the women at Apna Ghar to create our own response to stock imagery around the themes of retirement and ageing. It was unanimously agreed that many of the existing stock images we studied in early workshop sessions didn’t fairly or accurately represent them as a group. From a lack of diversity, to seniors looking passive and redundant in a pastel care-home nightmare, the large majority of the mainstream examples did nothing to challenge perceptions of our ageing population.

Seeking to find out what life was really like, we began the discussion of what retirement really meant to the group and I wanted to know what their lives now entailed. Our discussions led us on a journey through a host of themes, as you see explored in the resulting images: cooking, dancing, socialising, knitting, and community organising.

Having established the focus for the imagery, we set about having as much fun as we could with the themes: portraying the keen home cooks and knitters as highly skilled, creative and totally immersed in their passions; the community organisers as active, dedicated and ready to take a stand- and our number one dancer as the life and soul of the party.

Working to what felt like a short time frame, I was keen to start image making in some form or another almost immediately. From our introductory session, I set the task of the group showing us a glimpse of their lives with a disposable camera. The results were insightful, technically good and helped inform discussions about possible project outcomes. My request for group members to step in front of my lens was met with some reluctance early on, with their confidence growing as we began discussing and exploring ideas.

Reviewing the results of the previous weeks’ photo sessions was a key factor in generating enthusiasm, ensuring we were faithful to the women’s vision, as well as getting plenty of laughs! Before we knew it, we were flinging chapatis skywards and throwing flour all over the floor in a fun and messy photo shoot with our ‘Kalākāras of the Kitchen’. The more the group was able to express themselves, the more I was able to apply my creativity and execute their ideas.”

Find out more about Old Stock New Stock here.

All photos by Joe Smith.

Balqis, an elder South Asian woman, is wearing a bright blue saree and an apron, in front of her is a table with flower on it and a big pile of homemade chapatis. She is throwing one of them into the air.