Dietrich's photo exhibit one for the ages

WARRNAMBOOL artist Laurene Dietrich can remember the moment when she started to feel genuinely “old” — but little did she know it would kickstart a massive statewide art project.

“When I was doing my first of year of certificate four in art at TAFE (a few years ago) I was doing a lot of stone sculpture and just played havoc with my body,” Dietrich explained.

As arthritic pain “like I’d never had before” hit her, Dietrich’s mind flicked back to a favourite postcard — a black and white picture of actress Bette Davis holding a cushion bearing the words, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies”.

“That phrase resonated with me,” she said. 

Hence the more grammatically correct “Old age is no place for sissies” is the title of a multi-faceted project she is working on as part of the 2014 Seniors Festival in October this year.

One part of the project is a photographic exhibition featuring Victorians over 60 posing with something — a shirt, a cushion or a blackboard for example — bearing the phrase “old age is no place for sissies”. 

Dietrich has already taken 480 portraits but is hoping to reach 1000 by the time she finishes a 10-week tour of the state.

“When people have their photos taken I get them to sign a permission form, and then I ask if they’d like to fill in this other form,” she explained, with the other form featuring questions on people’s passions, greatest achievements, life lessons and things they wished they could change about the world or their lives. These details are forming the basis for a collection of songs Dietrich is collaborating on with former Warrnambool musician Peter Sheen, using “the common themes and brilliant individual stories” which come from the mini-interviews.

So far she has met a wide variety of people — bush poets, former MPs, quilters and even a farmer who moonlights as a magician — but the photos, stories and resulting songs were pulling together towards a central point that Dietrich is hoping to make with her work.

“In our society, the older we get, the more invisible and less valued you are,” she said.

“This is about invisibility ... and the stories really say ‘these are the experiences of these people, numerous and varied, and they’re still happening’.

“These people are still doing things, and it’s not just their past that’s interesting, it’s also about what they’re doing now. 

“We’re here and alive and kicking and don’t write us off.

“It’s hard to walk past (the photos of) 1000 people and not take notice.”

Old Age Is No Place For Sissies will be displayed simultaneously in October in galleries and community buildings in Edenhope, Hopetoun, Clunes, Yinnar, Nowra Nowra and the Melbourne Town Hall.

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