The Many Faces of Leeds: ‘Now Then’ Photography Exhibition

‘Now Then’ is a sensitively produced photography exhibition. The exhibition explores a convergence of past and present and plays on the Yorkshire vernacular greeting “now then.” The photographic subjects are elderly Yorkshire residents. The elderly generation are becoming increasingly vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation. This exhibition gives a voice to this marginalised age group.

The exhibition is held in the Holy Trinity Church, the portraits on easels and sheet music stands. Next to each portrait is a piece of the text. The exhibition is modestly arranged, with the focus on the subjects and their thoughts. Within the texts the seemingly mundane is interwoven with disruptive life events: one woman recounts a lengthy nose bleed after being pushed off a swing when she was seven. This is juxtaposed with her discussion of the emotional effects of losing her late husband. A man who grew up in Burley says he believes the now elderly generation “had the best years. Things have speeded up too much.” Another man speaks of a childhood in Leeds with an air of nostalgia. Despite living in small houses with shared outside toilets he says it was “an age of long, hot summers” and that “we spent all our time outdoors.”

Image: Humans of Leeds

A woman dressed in a large beige jacket standing against a plain background says during her teenage years “I used to dance my socks off; I loved bopping. I like rock and roll.” In the spirit of rock and roll, she says she was not always well behaved. In today’s youth centric society, elderly people can feel somewhat dismissed. Her photograph alone does not allude to a rebellious streak but after reading the text an eagerness can be detected in her body language and a mischievous smile that might otherwise have been missed. Another elderly woman migrated to Leeds seven years ago. In Cameroon she had worked on a farm and sold produce at the market. When her daughter brought her to England she spoke little English. She felt she was in a “prison” and struggled with loneliness. With the help of Burmantofts Senior Action, she learnt English and made friends. She is “very happy” now. This stresses the importance of supporting elderly people, particularly those who have experienced language barriers and cultural adjustment.

The photographs stand alone as great portrait photography, but the accompanying texts create an intimate insight into the subjects’ lives and give the photographs new meanings. There is no intervention from the photographer within the texts. This gives the elderly residents a platform to voice their anecdotes, concerns and accomplishments, which ultimately celebrates their lives.

Now Then is funded by Leeds Inspired, part of Leeds City Council.

Anya Loudon

(Image courtesy of Humans of Leeds)