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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.