PHYLLIS ODESSEY

each picture is an adventure

Clock Hand, Mable Odessey, 2019

 “At what age are you old? “The Force of Age”  comes from a book by Simone de Beauvoir. Over 50 years ago she  was writing about issues of aging in her book The Coming of Age.” – Mabel Odessey

I’ve wanted to write about my sister, pinhole photographer, Mabel Odessey for a long time.  On a recent visit to France, the perfect opportunity presented itself: an exhibition of her photographs at  L’Espace photographique Arthur Batut in Labruguiere, France.

Knowledge, Mabel Odessey, 2019.

PO:  What was the impetus for these photographs?
MO: When we think about aging we usually only think of what we lose as we age; our mobility, our mental faculties, our close friends our usefulness in society…the force of age refers to looking at what qualities we have developed that give us the courage to face the physical and mental challenges that are in front of us.

Life Direction, Mabel Odessey, 2019.

PO: How did this interest in age begin?
MO: I began working on these ideas in 2013 when my close neighbors moved to a nursing home. the earlier work I called Lifelines, I met with and photographed the hands of the residents with the pinhole camera  over a period of 6 months. After this, I had established trust with the residents and I invited students from nearby middle school to join in a portrait project that became part of the international Inside Out project.

Inside Out Project. Both students and residents of senior living facility took photographs of each other.

PO:  Describe the Inside Out Project.
MO: We printed the portraits as large posters 90cm  x 120cm which were glued on buildings in the town. Creating a photo mural that reclaimed public space from advertising and the relentless young and beautiful faces they sell us, to give the elderly who are mostly invisible space.

One of the pinhole cameras used by Mabel Odessey.

PO:  Why a pinhole photograph?
MO: I like working with the pinhole camera, because each picture is an adventure, even though I can imagine what the photo will be like because of my experience, each time there are so many unpredictable variables that can intervene and surprise me.

Hands That Nurtured Us, Mabel Odessey, 2019.  How many dishes have a woman’s hands washed, how many meals has she cooked and served by the time she reaches 80.

I like working with long exposures, and I see the photographs as being a record of a period of time, with layers. With the pinhole camera strange things happen. like with memory not everything in the picture is clear or how we remembered it. the pictures are not trying to be a faithful representation of a moment but more an experience.

PO: Can you describe the  process you used to make these photographs.
MO: All the images are black and white pinhole photographs on film that have been scanned, I then combine them with digital photographs to create these collages. I Use photoshop to play with transparency and blending the colored images with the hands.

Tolerance, Mabel Odessey, 2019.  The beech tree is Bach Flower remedy for tolerance to counteract being judgmental. This also seems a essential quality to develop in order to accept things as they are, when faced with the reality of things not always being how we want them to be.

PO:  How  did this project become about something much larger than just photographing old people.
MO: I discovered in conversation with the residents that no one including the 97 year old, considered themselves old. I realized how loaded the word ‘old’ is. A word we use for something that is no longer valuable or useful, something to be thrown out.

Rings of Life, Mabel Odessey, 2019

For old objects their value increases, and we re-label them as vintage, antiques, fine wines and listed buildings. We display them carefully and handle them with tenderness. For humans we don’t have any other words. I believe that this reflects how western society views old age and death as a failures and not as the natural outcome of birth and youth.

Let us reframe aging and death in the continuity of life. I also realize that I saw old people as a separate race. They were old, always had been that way had different desires and hopes from us younger people.

The Hand You Are Dealt, Mabel Odessey, 2019

One day I realized they hadn’t always been old, they had been children, babies, they had been the same age as me. In the same way I would be the same age them.

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