2011 In praise of Elderly
  • Curator 2011

    Homo senex

    The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.
    Oscar Wilde

    We all know how to recognise an old person in the street. Even someone of 65 is capable of talking of someone of 85 as old, excluding him or herself from that classification. When is one old? It depends what for. It is really a question of individual boundaries but, just like the permitted age limit for driving, it must be defined in order to be administered.

    Muscular distension, loss of visual acuity, degeneration of bone structures, loss of libido, senile dementia, disassociation of ideas, hypertension. People who examine themselves in the mirror every morning and see only the new ravages wreaked on their body will eventually suffer from gerontophobia. It is defined as an irrational fear of getting old, when in reality it is the most rational thing in the world. The universal axiom of ageing and dying still continues to take us by surprise.

    Until the present day, the 65th birthday marked the official point at which we ceased to work, because we turned into beings of limited productive potential for society, which makes this definition a tool in the production system. A century ago there were no retirement problems as few people reached the age of 65. Harsh working conditions ensured the disappearance of the working class while diseases did the same for the bourgeoisie. There was no need to understand or improve the living conditions of the third age. Now, not only are there more elderly people but they live much longer. This is interpreted as a positive statistic from the perspective of the politically correct, but seen from the pragmatics of biology it may be considered a burden for the species. Faced with this panorama, a distinction must be made between life expectancy and expectations of a life free of disability. To reach 90 fuelled by chemical cocktails, countless visits to the doctor, operations and prayers, is not what can be described as life expectations, for there is no hope there, and far less is there life.

    Interest in understanding the third age began after the Second World War. Medical and social improvements inverted the demographic pyramid. The State took the trouble to readapt those who abandoned their productive role. After retiring, some will live another forty years longer. And this is a juicy market for a whole new series of services that mark out the ageing of the old. To make an old person, some twenty years are required, from sixty to eighty, just when the arcus senilis makes its appearance, the ring that arises around the cornea, which seems to be the universal sign of old age. Twenty years to find inner peace and embrace death.

    It may be a mistake to accept retirement in resignation and conformity. Some will have spent decades dreaming of not getting up at six in the morning. But many are those who wish to continue being useful and see themselves, all of a sudden, confronted by a socio-cultural animator teaching them ballroom dancing in front of fat old ladies and lame old men. Free time and great expectations you can’t find a channel for. And that is where the monster of the second chance comes into play. Travelling ,learning, loving; all of it with a body already in decline that does not meet the expectations you hope to meet.

    Researcher a scientist Sergei Voronoff implanted pieces of monkey testicles in his patients to rejuvenate them. In 1930 the well-to-do who paraded across Europe sporting monkey’s gonads could be counted in their thousands, convinced their testicles had been steeped in the fount of eternal youth. A paradox of our era: when young we invest our health in making money; when old, we spend that money to recover the health we have lost.

    Old people immersed in stoic ataraxia, which is simply the path of Buddha, consciously or unconsciously understand that age to be a time of equilibrium, serenity and acceptance. Plato argued that once freed from the passions of youth, one may give oneself over to the pleasures of the spirit. For Aristoteles, old age was, on the contrary, pure decadence and in no way a guarantee of wisdom, since there are old people who are as stupid as they were when young. Today’s homo senex tends towards the latter, Aristotelian view: most of them reach the third age with no spirit to nurture, just a head connected to a TV set. And that occurs because in present society old age is omitted, and relegated to all kinds of homes, making it an arduous task indeed to age with dignity.

    Being old is neither good nor bad; it is not a laudable but a simply inevitable state, which forms part of our biological identity. In this edition of GETXOPHOTO we want to show some very diverse facets of this universal life period that is systematically ignored by the communications media, as if such ignorance somehow constituted the secret of immortality. Another important aspect we must underline is that the third age we explore here is that of the welfare state. It is worth remembering that a large part of the planet is still subsumed within an economy of pure subsistence, where there is no retirement and no ballroom dancing but where, paradoxically, one ages in greater dignity.

    Frank Kalero

    Licenciado en Comunicación Audiovisual por la Universidad Pompeu Fabra de Barcelona y Master en Fotografía Documental por el International Center of Photography de Nueva York. Fue residente en Fabrica de Benetton (Italia), ha sido fundador y director de la revista OjodePez (España) y se encargó de implantar la revista Vice Brasil desde Sao Paulo. Fue cofundador de la galería de arte Invaliden1 y en el 2009 funda la revista de arte The world according to, ambas en Berlín. En 2010 dirige el Photo Meeting de Barcelona y funda Punctum, una nueva revista de fotografía para todos los países del continente asiático. Vive en Berlín. Es comisario de GETXOPHOTO desde 2010.

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