Age is a funny thing, as the years pass our life experience grows as our bodies begin to ache and complain. Our life achievements become well told and often repeated stories, whilst young guns take the places we once occupied. The young photographer becomes the seasoned veteran, as the phone rings less often with commissions the archive becomes ever more important.
We all get older, it begins the day we are born, but we don’t all have to get angry.
It can be difficult to remain relevant as you get older. It is easy to feel that your voice is no longer heard and your work no longer recognized or respected. The photographer who has spent forty to fifty years or more dedicated to the medium will have seen and experienced many changes. Changes in equipment, process and practice, from analogue to digital, from darkroom to computer screen, from the pub to the social media forum. They will have been forced to change and adapt or leave the conversation. This constant change can be tiring, with a resultant decision to remain in one place, at some point happy with that final destination.
However, the challenge as we get older is to remain relevant, and part of the conversation without becoming bitter, resentful, dismissive or disrespectful of the new. New work, new photographers, new voices, new opinions, new writing and new ideas, all are new challenges to the established photographer.
Engaging with photographers younger than yourself is essential. Not just the ones whose work you like, or students, but all photographers of all ages. Be willing to eat some humble pie and listen on the basis that you are never too old to learn. Young photographers respect their elders so there is no reason why this respect should not be reciprocated.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case in my experience. I am in awe of some older photographers energy, enthusiasm and willingness to share their knowledge, but I am also too often disappointed by the rudeness, arrogance and disrespect shown by others.
Talking with young photographers keeps us young, just as any interaction with those younger than ourselves can keep us informed on how others are thinking and acting. It can challenge our thinking, however entrenched it may be. It keeps us young in mind and thought a particularly important state for the photographer needing to continue to adapt whatever their age. We don’t have to agree but there should be no issue in listening.
My father continued working as a bricklayer five days a week until he was eighty-two with laborers that ranged from nineteen to seventy years of age. It kept him both mentally and culturally informed. The aging photographer would do well to take this on board. I know I do! Such conversation forces you to be relevant, to understand contemporary culture and adapt to it. Feeling that you are no longer relevant will make you feel angry. Talking with people with different experiences will make you smarter. It’s a simple equation but one that makes sense whatever your age.
I recently saw a photographer post this on Twitter “I’ve learned so much from young photographers. Their enthusiasm, their creativity and their excellence in communicating their practice is heartwarming. Opt out of our community and you miss out!” Last week I read an article by the writer, music critic and commentator David Quantick saying this about being in his 60s, “As one gets older, one can’t be bothered…You are increasingly grumpy, increasingly fond of only your own company.” I know which of these two people I identify most with and it is not the latter!
Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com. He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.
© Grant Scott 2022
Image: Harry T. Peters America on Stone Lithography Collection, National Museum of American History.