As Time Goes By: A Psychological Perspective on Aging

Growing old is whatever we choose to make it.
Photo by Kimberly Bryant

 

An elderly woman hugs a younger woman.
Growing old is whatever we choose to make it.
Photo by Kimberly Bryant

Artists have long sought to unravel the mysteries of the aging process by way of creative expression in the forms of photos, paintings, and films. It’s no wonder that we’re so intrigued with growing old: even though it’s one of the few aspects of life shared by everyone on our planet, it’s also something that we lack perspective on during our everyday lives. For example, when we look into the mirror, we see ourselves as we are in that moment; it’s virtually impossible to see the minute shifts that occur on an ongoing daily basis. This is why it’s important to take note of filmmakers like Anthony Cerniello who reflect our aging experience through their art.
 

A revealing short film on aging
New York native Cerniello, now based in Los Angeles, has made a short film titled Danielle. The film beautifully reveals the aging process through merging still images with special effects to create a seamless portrayal of what growing old looks like when condensed into a mere five minutes. The film focuses its attention solely on a composite image of a woman’s changing face, which is quite visually impressive on purely a technical level — but what makes Danielle special is its capacity to also draw viewers in emotionally.

Cerniello was able to create this ambitious video in the brief span of just several years by using still photographs (taken by photographer Keith Sirchio) of his real-life friend Danielle, along with all of her female relatives. He and his team of skilled animators and special effects artists then combined the images of the most similar-looking relatives to achieve the eerily life-like composite that we see in the video above. The final result packs an emotional punch with its gentle simplicity: it conveys a shared experience with which we can all intimately relate — that of growing old.
Taking back our image of growing old
One of the reasons this particular video seems to strike such a touching chord is because we don’t usually see age-based portraits of people void of any surrounding context. Because we’re only shown Danielle’s face, she appears vulnerable. Absent are the visual aids we’re typically accustomed to seeing — for example, a Starbucks coffee cup (a sign of productivity); a yoga mat (a hint that she’s health-conscious); or maybe a fancy purse (a suggestion that she’s fashionable). These are cues we see in almost any candid photograph that help us to assess someone’s character. Their absence in Danielle allows us to more easily project our own self-image onto her composite.
In the age of Facebook and Instagram, aging has become intertwined with seeing how all of our friends are growing old, too. Stories like these speak candidly about our societal fear of growing old, and what it means to care too much about aging. The Internet often encourages us to compare ourselves to others; it also tends to emphasize the value of youth, rather than that of aging. On the other hand, videos like Danielle portray a relatively objective, unmediated perspective on the intrinsic value and beauty inherent within the aging process.

Eldery men sit in style on a bench outside.
What does growing old look like to you? We all have differing views on this shared experience.
Image source: Karen Beate Nøsterud of norden.org via wikimediacommons.org

A family through the ages
Similarly, photography projects like The Arrow of Time, demonstrate how to re-frame our perspective on aging. This long-term project by photographer Diego Goldberg consists of portraits he took of himself and his family every year on June 17th. The results are a thoughtful, ongoing document depicting his family’s aging process. It’s not necessary to be a photographer to keep track of your family’s growth: as Goldberg shows us, setting aside just one day a year is enough to accumulate images that will help your family and future generations appreciate what it looks like to grow old.
Witnessing and creating visual depictions of the aging process can help us to see, and experience, our lives to their fullest — no matter where we’re at in our journey. Have you and your family found any creative traditions to help you observe your collective growth?
The trained and compassionate staff at the Institute of Aging has many resources for individuals moving through the aging process, as well as information on how to gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.

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