Marta Wilkosz: #seniorstyles

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Marisa Espe: How did you first begin the project #seniorstyles?

Marta Wilkosz: It all started in my neighbourhood in Berlin. My apartment is on Karl Marx Avenue, a grand boulevard of the former communist regime, where a lot of elderly and retired people have been living all their lives. This is where I started taking my first images of older people. I was interested in their clothing, the way they put it all together, and how different it all looked from the way we currently dress. The vintage oversized coats that are often too big for their body frames. The length of skirts and necklines. The great hats and accessories. The comfortable walking shoes… But most importantly I find their general silhouettes very interesting. At the beginning I was snapping shots with just my iphone, but have started using my camera to distance myself from the subjects as to not to intrude into their space.

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What has been a surprising or memorable experience while out doing street photography?

I don’t really have any funny stories or reactions… I try to shoot in a documentary style, from across the street, or in a way that the subject is not aware of my camera. Especially in my old East Berlin neighbourhood there is still some distrust with strangers following you around on the street with a camera. I don’t want to intrude, but mostly it’s because I’m interested in seeing the fashion in motion, and their expression uninterrupted and deep in thought. I never ask permission because I don’t want the photos to feel staged or posed–I prefer them to be a true glimpse into the everyday.

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How would you describe the difference between #seniorstyles and something like Advanced Style, if you believe them to be different?

I feel like #seniorstyles is more of an archive. I’ve noticed that older people often wear a “uniform,” an outfit worn many times and often, similar pieces often worn by many of the ladies on the street. I admire that simplicity, calmness and disconnection from current fashion trends. There is definitely a “look” that is to me quintessentially Eastern European: lots of grey, beige, light and understated color palette and very, very simple cuts. I don’t ask people to pose, and my personal interest lays in the simplicity of how ordinary women and men put their everyday outfits together.

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One of the early #seniorstyles photos I took, was of a a very elegant older lady on the underground. I thought she looked amazing, was really well dressed and put together. I’m not sure if she was aware that I was photographing her with my iphone, but her body language and expression was so confident and strong, it made me think about society’s portrayal of seniors, especially women.

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What is the responsibility of the street photographer? What do you value as a street photographer, if you self-identify as one?

I am trying to teach myself positive associations with aging. I hope my photos show a graceful, and calm side of that. My own nostalgia for my grandparents who are no longer alive, has very positive associations for me. I always find the puffy cloud of curly white hair, or the soft hands covered by age spots very beautiful and comforting. In a way it’s a glimpse into my own future, and I feel like the people I chose to photograph embrace aging with confidence and style. From that comes my respect for my subjects, and because of the nature of this project, I would never portray anyone in a negative light. There is a lot of debate about personal privacy versus documentary photography, and although I don’t ask permission, I try to keep all that in mind.

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Street-style photography has really grown in the last years–there are thousands of photos being published everyday, and it’s considered now absolutely common to be photographed on the street because of your outfit. I am a big supporter of seeing more of the older generation and celebrating your age.

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One theme of #seniorstyles is the visibility of the elderly and not just in an old folks meet social media kind of way, rather seeing and noticing their bodies and their activity out in daily life, there’s something quietly defiant in a way. Can you speak to the subject of visibility and what that means to you?

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Quick moments in time, capturing a passing generation. … I have to admit, this has gradually turned into a small obsession–I am always looking for older people on my way to the studio, outside the grocery store, while on holidays… I always carry a camera with me, you see the most interesting people when you least expect it. What initially and still attracts me to these subjects is their slowed-down pace, introspective quietness, and how they seem to move through our fast-paced worlds on their own time. Once you notice their movements and body expression, there is something as you said, “quietly defiant” about their presence. This, to me, is very interesting.

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Perception of what is considered old changes with every generation, the old clichés of wisdom coming with age, and the cleverness of the new young generation will always be valid. The fact that we get to live longer and longer with ever generation maybe gives us a bit of relief from the pressures of time, but the new youth are at the forefront of new digital advances and clever beyond their years. My photos of elderly people are confined to my neighbourhood and my travels – a simple sample of a large topic.

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Is #seniorstyles fashion photography?

I consider my #seniorstyles project to be more of a documentary of a certain demographic of people, but but of course their personal style is the trigger.

Marta Wilkosz in conversation with Marisa Espe