Exploring the naked truth about ageing
Margaret Jennings talks to photographer Marna Clarke, 77, who takes self-portraits, many with her 89-year-old partner, that give us an insight into our evolving bodies
ASERIES of photographs in an online exhibition on the study of ageing catch the eye and keep it transfixed, transcending what we are usually bombarded with — the notion that ‘perfect’ youthful bodies are the ideal representation of beauty.
The images — which include nude studies — are self-portraits taken by the photographer Marna Clarke, some with her 89year-old partner Igor Satevitch, a painter, as part of a venture she began five years ago, called Time As We Know it.
Now aged 77, Marna says she started the project, which has also featured in book form, as she wanted to “show the truth about ageing”.
“Nudity is our ‘bare’ truth, so nude shots were a natural part of my work. We humans spend so much time, effort, and money ‘hiding’ our truth, anything we think we might be judged on: Weight gain, grey hair, wrinkles, our age, how much money we have, our origins, for instance,” she tells Feelgood.
“Hence we have Spanx and liposuction, hair dye, Botox, facelifts, spending beyond our means, and generally telling lies. Revealing our truth renders us vulnerable: Will we be loved, for instance, will we get the job, will we find a partner, will we be a part of the group? These insecurities prevent our standing in our own truths and saying ‘Look, this is me… take it or leave it. I am who I am and deserve to be respected for my humanness, my uniqueness’.”
Shame about ageing bodies is part of that culture, says the Florida-based artist: “As we age, our bodies begin to show the wear and tear of living, the wilting of our bloom. In the youth-dominated culture we live in, we turn away from this natural phenomenon and try to look younger. We don’t want to be ignored or disrespected or discarded because we’re older.”
The key, says Marna, is to “grow older unapologetically” and to embrace the qualities we hopefully have earned through ageing and experience, such as “wisdom, perspective, patience, kindness, self-respect, and respect for others, love, listening more, talking less, and being grounded”.
Marna herself has had her own battles regarding self-image: “I have always had a warped sense of my body — I’ve felt I was fat and I’m not. I wanted to ‘see’ what I looked like — not a fleeting glimpse in a mirror, but in a photo I could hold in my hand and study.”
She has done us a favour by sharing those pictures — allowing us to “study” how ageing bodies have their own beauty, their own stories to tell, and, in that process, perhaps open a door of invitation to us all, to take some time to stand still in front of our mirrors, to honour our own bodies that have carried us through life.
Perhaps one of the most striking images is the picture featured on this page, of Marna and Igor, called ‘The Embrace’. The stillness of the pose draws us in — because it features an older couple there are many stories we could project on to it about the passage of time and human connection.
Its intimacy, and the intimacy of everyday life portrayed in some other photos, almost highlight how “hidden” the world of the older person is, within mass media; how unused our eye is to such images, in contrast to the exposure and glorification of the younger body everywhere.
Marna and Igor, who have had solo and joint exhibitions together, are creatively inspired as they age. “We still consult with each other and solicit advice,” she says. “He just finished writing a book about his life that will be published this summer. I do think that all our projects have kept our grey matter stimulated — but who knows what lies around the corner.
“I intend to keep adding to this photo journal but not at the previous rate. I strive to create unusual, striking images and ones that will continue to present us in our daily lives. I’m not trying to convey any message per se, so much as show what’s happening with two older people who have the same issues as others facing the changes wrought by getting older,” she says.
The response to the work has been mixed. There have been some “juvenile, thoughtless comments” mainly online, but her book has sold out and she is in the throes of having a second edition printed. “I feel that I’ve reached a lot of people with this work. Women especially have connected to it, but also men of all ages. However, ultimately the project is most likely my own therapy for getting older,” says Marna.
The couple keep their bodies active, doing yoga stretches and pilates daily and walking, but their creative pursuits have enriched them both physically and mentally. “Our bodies are becoming old but our spirits keep going though challenged at times.”
THE EMBRACE: The stillness of the pose draws us, there are many stories we could project on to it about the passage of time and human connection.