Hidden Depths: Laura Page on award-winning exhibition challenging age segregation
Phoebe Melmoth speaks to Sheffield photographer Laura Page about Hidden Depths, an award-winning exhibition that aims to challenge ageist stereotypes and break down barriers behind age segregation in the UK.
Where did you first get the inspiration for the project?
I was working in residential homes doing workshops. As I spent more time with people I began to realise what amazing characters they were, and how much they had lived. I felt like I was almost guilty of pre-judging these people myself; I think this image we have in our heads of older people is made worse by the media and gives us a very two-dimensional idea of what it is to be old.
Was there anyone in particular from the care home that inspired you or who you particularly connected with?
A few people. There was one woman who didn’t speak, and I first thought she just wasn’t able to communicate. Eventually, when I got to know her, she was just so funny and outrageous. There was another man who was very quiet, and once I got talking to him he told me that when he was a boy he pretended to be older so that he could go to war. He opened up to me about what he saw when he was just a child, and how he was still very traumatised by it.
It sounds cheesy but I definitely connected with all of them. However, another person who really stands out is a woman called Irene, who was from Sheffield. Irene fostered over 200 kids as a single mum when she had hardly any money. She seems like a very regular person but was amazing, which I guess summarises the project. We tend to look past older people when they’ve done more than will do in a lifetime.
How did the project begin to come together?
When I first had the idea, I started searching for positive images of ageing and couldn’t find any. I applied for the Rebecca Vassey Memorial Award, where I spoke to an interview panel. I was so shocked that I won, and everything came together from there.
We tend to look past older people when they’ve done more than will do in a lifetime.
How did working during the pandemic affect the project and how you would normally work?
At first, I was sceptical about starting the project during the pandemic. I had to take a few photos through windows, doors or outside. In the end, working during lockdown benefited the project, as people were bored at home, desperate to communicate and express themselves. Surprisingly, no one I was photographing was worried about Covid. They didn’t want to fritter away their later years in lockdown; they wanted to be part of a project. Some of their children had concerns, so I made sure to check everyone was happy at every stage.
You had over 450 people wanting to be involved with the project. How did you decide who would be photographed?
I was completely shocked by how many people wanted to be involved. I wrote back to every single person to find out more about them and their lives. I also tried to find a good cross-section to make it more diverse. I wanted different kinds of stories from people of different backgrounds.
What more do you think can be done to challenge ageist stereotypes in modern-day society?
These photographs are only a tiny part of what needs to happen in general. The power of image is really strong; most images we see of older people are completely inaccurate, and I think that’s really dangerous. People may see that and think that they’re too old to do certain things, for example.
It’s important that we see normal older people, although most of the people I photographed are actually more extraordinary.
People have written to me to say they’ve been inspired by the photos. Someone said that they’d lost their way during the pandemic, but that the pictures shook them up and made them remember who they are.
Part of what we’re exploring is reimagining what ageing can be: how people can use their wisdom and life experience to carry on learning and teaching, to continue to have exciting and wonderful lives, and to still be an important part of society after retirement.
Hidden Depths can be viewed 4th-26th March at the Persistence Works Gallery, Yorkshire Artspace. Opening times: Weds-Sat, 11am-5pm.