Life and Living: In the Subjects’ Own Words
For a variety of reasons I did not get to know all the subjects equally well. But all expressed a wish to be included and were happy to work with me, even more when they saw me putting the black cloth over my head. I’m certain my use of this black cloth transported them back to their youth when such cameras were the norm. Even more fortuitous, the sight of the cloth nearly always opened up rich veins of conversation that I’m convinced would not otherwise have happened — sheer serendipity. However, as I anticipated, a few of the subjects preferred to keep their stories to themselves, just to participate and quietly enjoy the occasion. In every case the subjects’ families or carers (sometimes both) were present, and were always gracious and supportive.
To me, each centenarian was special — which of course goes without saying — but not solely because they had reached 100. My notes that follow (click Read More under each portrait below) are from my personal journal of that time. And even now without notes I can recall vividly the impression each of these inspiring centenarians made on me.
The subjects came from a variety of backgrounds and socioeconomic divisions — city, countryside, rich, poor, formally educated and educated by life. I made no distinctions for none made sense. Also, ultimate honesty dictated that I should photograph all subjects exactly as I found them and in their familiar surroundings whether sparse or privileged: apartment, flat, modest home, suburban 3-bed semi, large country estate, farm or care centre, and whether living with family members or friends.
In that same vein, I used no photographic trickery to enhance any subject or environment.
Also here, along with my journal observations, are thoughts and ‘secrets’ these subjects shared with me (click Read More, below). Bear in mind that they could not be expected to know the answer to the question I am so often asked: Why had they lived so long. Nonetheless, most subjects were eager to reveal or guess at their ‘secret’ to long life, and in doing so they shared their considerable wisdom even when they didn’t perceive it as wisdom.
After the project I resumed my studies in psychology. And the more I read and researched the more the centenarians’ ‘secrets’ to a long and rewarding life gained validation and turned into incontrovertible truths. Today, in the areas of achievement, fulfilment and wellbeing, I teach my clients and students much of what these centenarians allowed me to learn.
Still, science will never measure well traits like spirit and character and optimism, qualities that have a lot to do with these subjects living such long lives. On top of that, today’s ‘new’ scientific discoveries frequently mirror what our grandparents and great-grandparents by some quite un-scientific means often understood. Which means this: the centenarians, and older people in general, are still our teachers — that’s how it should be, and remain . . .
— Joseph Éamon Cummins