Bessie Young: the Visuality of Aging

Just a small note from the management… this is the first of our “featurecreature” posts. We wanted to join forces with some of our fellow Amherst students from time to time, and we figured what better way than invite guest writers? This first featurecreature comes from Bessie Young ’11. She’s offering some of her beautiful (and thought-provoking) photography, (on display in Fayerweather and 2nd floor Frost) so enjoy! And as a side note, if anyone tries to steal Bessie’s photos without permission, we’ll send proud pantaloons to tickle you into a coma!

Painted Window
Bessie Young ‘11

Open nearly any book about aging, and there on the first page you’ll be hit with startling statistics. Old people are growing in number, they say. Across the globe, the number of individuals aged 65 years and older is increasing, and we can’t keep up. They’re taking over. Families, governments, economies will all be affected by these graying demographics. We currently do not have the resources or plans in place to handle this shift. The figures we read are meant to educate, to surprise, and to call the reader to action. They lay the foundation for whatever will follow by saying: care. It is time to care about aging because our elderly population is going to be a problem soon.

This body of work is meant to put aside numbers and statistics. Through photography’s visual language I have been able to explore senior residences, document my findings, and articulate something more profound than the sum of these constructed parts. These are 12 selected photos from a Senior Honors Interdisciplinary Thesis documenting where the elderly reside in the United States, France, and Turkey. The final product is a photo book titled Painted Window, which includes 48 photos and a written forward.

This work is a way to connect the individual and the subjective aging experience to aging as a social phenomenon. It is a way to draw lines between the visible and invisible. There is specificity here that words cannot capture.

I hope you’ll see that aging isn’t simply a problem about numbers; it is about me, about you, your grandparents, your parents, you. You will be old one day. It makes sense to take an active interest in the welfare of a population to which you will inevitably, and hopefully, belong.


Enter into these photos, into these spaces. See what life is like for the elderly based on where they live and where, ultimately, they die. These are moments to be understood and felt.

Feel them.

Is this where you will live?