Despite their wisdom and years of experience, elderly people often walk through life unheard and unseen. They are ignored by people on the streets, isolated from society, and frequently left to fend for themselves. Understanding just how underrepresented they are, the Québécoise photographer Arianne Clément has made it her mission to put seniors in the spotlight.
“The neglected people in our societies have always occupied a central position in my photographic journey. In the last few years my focus has shifted towards the elderly, who I feel are dramatically underrepresented in the public sphere. Also, I genuinely love to spend time with them, to listen to their stories, to try to understand their point of view,” Clément tells Sip of Culture.
How to live to 100
One of Clément’s most notable projects is titled “How to live to 100”. As part of this project, Clément travelled to Sardinia (Italy), Ikaria (Greece), Okinawa (Japan), Nicoya (Costa Rica), and Loma Linda (California, US). In other words, she visited the so-called “blue zones”, which are renowned for having the highest life expectancy and the highest concentration of senior citizens on Earth. There, she spoke to inhabitants to investigate how they view ageing and what, in their opinion, is the secret to longevity.
Umeto Yamashiro, 99 years old
Yomitan village, Okinawa prefecture, Japan
“When I was younger I had a humble business; I sold odds and ends. It was enough to survive, but barely. When I was 80 years old, I decided to realise my dream of becoming a dancer. I approached a traditional Okinawan dance troupe that performs for tourists and, as I was truly determined to learn, they gave me a chance. Now I am the star dancer! I am in perfect health, I have no illnesses and I take no medication. At my last medical exam my doctor was jealous of my impeccable health. The secret? Laugh, laugh and laugh! Don’t let anger, hatred or worry live within you. Make an effort to love and accept all others. Be active, go out, party, dance, play music and embrace life!”
Dario Loi, 88 years old
Villagrande, Province of Ogliastra, Sardinia, Italy
“The secret to longevity? Water, cheese and wine! I am retired but, as my pension is insufficient, I am still a farmer. I grow a bit of everything and I have a few pigs. I also cultivate some vines as I love a glass of wine while eating. I get the impression that to go far in life one needs a little wine. That is my humble advice. I don’t drink too much, but I won’t turn down a glass or two at meals. Thanks to God, I have had a glorious life. Everything is going very well for me. I get along well with my wife, we look after the farm, we go to the sea often, we go on little trips, we visit churches. And even if I am a little old man I have lost none of my passion in bed!“
Francisca Paula Obando Angulo, 99 years old
Los Jocotes, Nicoya peninsula, Costa Rica
“Here is my advice in order to live to a hundred. You must eat simple and whole food, chew well, sleep soundly, take care of oneself with plants and natural products, avoid conflict and never speak ill of others. I would also advise young people to pursue their education. My greatest regret is not getting an education. If I could have, I would have liked to become a nurse, or a violinist. Practicing the traditional dancing of Costa Rica has been a great source of pleasure all my life. When I stopped dancing I got rid of all my dresses except one. I want to be buried in that beautiful dress.”
When asked what she has learned from her subjects over the years, Clément shared: “The biggest lesson I have learned is this: Happiness is when you have a recipe that says that you have to add one cup of nuts in your cake mix, and then you decide to add a cup and a half. This was something my friend Christine told me not very long before passing away. I often think about it and to me it means that happiness is to be found in very simple things.”
What do centenarians think of beauty and ageing?
Another one of Clément’s groundbreaking projects is “100 Years, Age of Beauty”. With this project, the photographer gives a voice to those whose beauty is typically overlooked, documenting their thoughts on youth, old age, sexuality, appearance, and love.
Solange Racine, 101 years old
“I actually care more about beauty today than when I was young. I like to dress rather well, in pretty, simple, and practical dresses. I put on foundation and perfume in the morning, lipstick after each meal, and I go to the hairdresser’s every week. I’m also careful not to eat foods that are either too rich or too sweet. It’s important to not let oneself go, I used to enjoy wearing necklaces, but I can no longer attach them, so l gave up.”
Madeleine Beaugrand Champagne, 101 years old
St-Bruno de Montarville, 2016
“When I was young, like all women, I wanted to be attractive. I curled my hair, wore the beautiful outfits my mom made for me and suffered in high heels, Still, I never wore makeup; I felt like it was fake. I married my husband because he was handsome, which I ended up regretting. He wasn’t a very good partner and I ended up kicking him out.”
Marie-Berthe Paquette, 102 years old,
“I personally find myself beautiful, and when I don’t, I do my best anyways! I like to have my hair neatly styled and wear dresses, jewellery and other accessories, I’ve always paid attention to my appearance. In fact, I’m known as “la fraiche” (the trendy lady).”
Stressing the importance of following your dreams, Clément advises young and aspiring photographers to not give up: “Be determined, keep going, don’t give up, this industry is tough and competitive, and there might be many obstacles along the way, many rejections, many errors, but just keep doing what you love, what makes sense to you, what brings joy to your life.”
To view more of the photographer’s work, visit arianneclement.com.