Whenever I take a photograph at the Mansion, I check with staff, and ask the subject if he or she wants to have their photo taken. If there is any hesitation or confusion, I simply say thanks and move on.
I never photograph anyone without asking their permission, and I am also well aware that one of the de-humanizing effects of the way we treat the elderly is that so many of them think people will be revolted or turned off by looking at images of them.
I was once the same way myself, I didn't wish to put photos of elderly people on my blog. As I evolved and took more photographs, I came to see the elderly differently. To me, their faces seem especially beautiful, there was so much character and perspective there.
I've come close to photographing Alice a dozen times, but always backed away. I just wasn't sure she was comfortable, so I held back. Today, she and I were standing out in the hallway. She asked me who I was, as she often does, and then I told her, and there was a flash of recognition. She had read my books, and also my blog.
Can I shoot your portrait today, I asked?
"Why do you want to?," she replied.
"Because I think you have a beautiful face, I said, especially in the late afternoon light." Alice got a twinkle in her eye.
Well, she laughed, are you telling me the truth. Yes, I said, I would not lie about how I see your face.
"Okay," she said. "I'd like to have my picture taken. I thank you for calling my face beautiful. Perhaps it is sometime. Wouldn't that be wonderful?"
Yes I replied it is wonderful and I took my camera over to Alice, and showed her the above photo. "My, my," she said, as if she had seen a stranger. Then she smiled. "it has been so many years since anyone called me beautiful, I thank you for it. I like your picture very much."
People need to be told they are beautiful, every day, I think. The ancients believed if things were repeated over and over again, every day for years, they would convince the brain that they were true.
You can write Alice at The Mansion, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.