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

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Ageing With Attitude - mar­naclarke.com face­book.com/Marna-Clarke-Pho­tog­ra­phy

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.

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