I was chuffed last week when I was asked to take part in a project about the representation of old women. The researcher was not the usual young academic looking at old women from an ‘objective’ point of view, not an academic taking the ‘still doing it approach’ but Sukey Parnell a professional photographer and lecturer who has received many awards for her portraits. http://www.sukeyparnell.com
Two things delighted me. 15 years ago after obtaining my MA degree in Film and Television Studies I asked the professor who specialised in Film and Society to supervise me for a research PhD on Old Women in Feature films. I can still feel the shock of his response “who is interested in old women?”. I was 63 at the time. His grey hair made me think he was not much younger. In anger I decided to abandon the academic route and pursue my research on my own and continue to run the film group that I used for my dissertation on Le Chat. Things have changed so much since then. The media are rife with alarming articles on the ageing population and its costs to the economy while universities seem to organise more and more conferences from different disciplines’ point of view. To my knowledge – which is not informed by a comprehensive study, I must admit – there is very little interest in how images of and films about old women are received by older women themselves.
This leads me to the second reason for my delight last week. For her project, Sukey invited a group of old women to comment on photos of old women. As usual when women get together to discuss issues in a safe environment, the feeling of sharing experiences and opinions is always deeply satisfying. 15 years of monthly film group meetings have shown me how powerful a tool of self-knowledge the image, still or moving, can be. In particular I was pleased to remark that Sukey used the strategy I use for my film group: gut and immediate reactions expressed first one woman at a time and then the discussion proceeds, discoveries are made, perceptions change. My only regret is that I have not documented the film group since its beginning but then we watched film on videos, I had no computer and the idea of blogging was only forced on me when I realised that it was the only way that the voice of a 75 years old woman had a chance of being heard by interested people.
I cannot wait to read and see Sukey’s new project.