What it’s like being old: photo-voice display

October 03, 2016 - 09:00

The exhibition displays entries selected from a photo-voice project in which the old people were given a camera to take photos of their lives.

Visitors at the exhibition "Stories of Getting Old". VNS Photo Minh Thu
Viet Nam News

By Minh Thu

HÀ NỘI — Old people often live through memories. They love to tell stories about the past. They also suffer fear of loneliness, abandonment, disease and death.

Stories of the daily life of old people - their loves, happiness, family and dreams are on display at a unique exhibition in Hà Nội.

The candid photos provide viewers with real insight into their spiritual life, thoughts and concerns.

The exhibition at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum displays entries selected from a photo-voice project in which old people were given cameras to take photos of their lives.

“In modern society, many old people feel lost with the pace of life while their children are busy with work and study, they even feel lonely in their home,” said Nguyễn Bích Vân, the museum’s director. “Have we ever wondered, should we put ourselves into the life of the old people to experience and get to know what they think and want in life?”

The project was conducted over several months at the Bách Niên Thiên Đức Elderly Care Centre on the outskirts of Hà Nội. Museum staff listened to stories of old people, dividing them into three themes: dreams, intimate thoughts and where new life begins.

“We have brought photo-voice projects to ethnic children and women in places affected by disaster, but there were many difficulties in approaching old people,” said Vân.

“Among 300 old people living at the centre, only 33 agreed to join the project. Some refused due to bad health, others out of shyness. It was also hard to instruct them to use the camera because most of them are over 70, with weak eyes and hands.”

However, looking at the results, the museum staff was moved by the stories told by the old people about themselves. They face fear of loneliness, abandonment, disease and death, and regrets about the past. They find joy in ordinary life at the centre where they live with other old people, not their families and children.

Nguyễn Thị Thống, 80, from Nam Từ Liêm District, joined the project. She and Mrs Đàm are from Thanh Hóa Province and share one room.

“Everyday Mrs Đàm cultivates vegetables with the centre’s staff. She has told me many times that ‘staying in one place doing nothing is so uncomfortable. I love working, I do this for relief,” said Thống.

“I like her a lot so I took a photo when she was taking care of her vegetables,” she said.

Lê Bích Châu, 84, from Hà Nội’s Cầu Giấy District, has lived at the Thiên Đức Centre for three years, at first with her husband but he passed away a year ago. She’s still fine and mentally healthy, reading books, writing poems and knitting.

One day, Nguyễn Tuấn Ngọc, the centre’s director, gave her a camera and said she could take as many photos as she wants.

She took a photo of a nurse feeding a patient who couldn’t feed herself.

“Hanh is a very kind and enthusiastic nurse, she takes care of us with kindness and everyone likes her,” said Châu. “I felt so warm when seeing her feeding the patient so I captured this.”

The exhibition is one of the events marking the International Day of Elderly People (October 1). It will run until the end of this month at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, 36 Lý Thường Kiệt Street, Hà Nội.

The museum is also featuring an outdoor exhibit entitled Ageless Beauty, which displays 25 photos by renowned photographer Rehahn Croquevielle displaying the natural beauty and wisdom of old Vietnamese women.

By capturing the honesty and imperfection of old age, Croquevielle brings out the charm of his characters. Despite their concern about age, these women still enjoy every moment of their lives. Each image reveals the spirit of women who successfully prove beauty is ageless.

“I believe that beauty is the combination of feeling great inside and outside. Their life experience which is seen through wrinkled eyes, their old hands coming together to express humour, self-confidence, wisdom and understanding,” he said.

The photographer will meet museum visitors and join a book signature on October 19. — VNS


Old people paint little statues. Photo Đỗ Viết Đông, 61.