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Senior Correspondent

Old is now cool. It has taken a lot of hard-living but there are finally enough of us to have an impact on marketing efforts to sell us stuff-saturated folks whatever product they think we might buy. Even haute couture magazines are putting gorgeous silver-haired beauties on their covers and some adventuresome clothes lines are recognizing that our gravity shaped bodies prefer something more stylish than sweat suits or muumuus. Stainless steel grip bars are now de rigueur in more hotel bathrooms. (If they'd only raise the toilet seats more.)

An idea of mine is doing its part to make old more acceptable and I hope it spreads. It came to me serendipitously while listening to a light classical concert — 2 violins and a cello — in a chapel a couple of blocks from our newly-moved-into retirement community residence in Claremont — Pilgrim Place.  Musing — I thought — How beautiful is this music.  Then — what is beautiful about our community?  Simultaneously — the people! — Simultaneously — beautiful faces! — Simultaneously '' Wrinkles!! — Simultaneously "photos" — and then "An exhibit!" (Have you noticed how great ideas tend to come simultaneously?)

I walked quickly home with visions of black and white photos of new neighbors on an exhibit wall and rushed to talk with our resident head of the community art committee. She was interested but cautious — remarking only that she had once had her black and white photo of a school walkway in an exhibit. She showed it to me on her wall covered with some of her other oil paintings. She suggested a couple of local people who might be photographers for the project.

I made appointments and continued my passionate description of immortalizing faces of our beautiful aging friends in an exhibit. Everyone thought it a great idea but few wanted to be on another committee (we're busily active seniors). When I started asking if they would be consultants to this project, more agreed and suggested other names.  Finally I had a couple of photographers and an assistant to help arrange sittings.

Alerting our community during lunchtime announcements when we're all together, I asked them to look around their tables, find faces that should be photographed, and fill out little nomination sheets with names. We got over a 100 names out of about 200 in the room. Great!  We were on our way. There were only a few grumbles about the term "Wrinkles" but the word was catching on and nominees were men as well as women.

A month later we had photos of 9 people. I panicked. At this rate it would take 3 months to get enough good photos for a minimum 24 in a nice exhibit for later summer or fall. I cried to my little consultant group and started re-learning how to use my own seldom used digital camera. We figured we needed cameras with at least 8 megapixels for sharpness when faces were enlarged, a tripod and a black board behind each face to have continuity (and make grey/white hair stand out). With me, there were 4 of us by the third month and we had a plan. Each photographer would submit 2 or 3 photos of each subject and then the group would select favorites on a numbered ballot from small prints on a wall. A vote by numbers, not subjective selections of favorite friends. Then we got 5 and finally 6 photographers (including the head of our art committee). Wow!  We came up with 138 photos of about 95 subjects, 24 men and 61 women, that could be appropriate. Touching to me was a couple of husbands who secretly turned in the names of their wives because "they really are beautiful but don't tell them I said so." Some wives also named be-whiskered husbands "even if he doesn't have a lot of wrinkles." At an event where poets in the community were reciting some of their works, one wrote a poem about wrinkled faces in honor of our exhibit.

Our art committee head decided she wanted to take our favorite photos, crop and edit them to exhibit standards in a square format, black and white, for our first selection. Another talented resident — and art collector and framer — designed the panels for the exhibit to be held in a community reception area and kept up for a month or so. He told us we could choose 32 photos.

Excitement was building in the community as more and more residents became willing to be photographed and suggested more names. I started seeing every face through a camera lens and each was worthy — if we could only capture the lovely spirit of these people in a print. As one of our consultants said, that would be a serendipitous shot. I took about 20 shots of one person and of these, one was declared one of the best poses for the exhibit.  We all voted for her face and several others also were seen as interesting and truthful.            

We decided to name the exhibit "Wrinkles in Time:  Beautiful Faces," a la Madeleine L'Engle's famous book ("A Wrinkle in Time") and to have an opening reception October 5. In November the community was sponsoring a big Festival and family and village residents usually came and they could also see the prints.

The Grand Opening in the Napier Common Room was over the top! I told the story of where the idea came from and my friend read her poem. I had asked the community to wear black and white outfits to the Opening to go along with a black and white decor for black and white photos. We had beautiful platters of black and white cookies (including donated licorice Scottie dogs) and light and dark punch on a white tablecloth with black napkins.

The photos were mounted in two rows with white frames on black backboard panels, all at eye level, with names of photographers and subjects and consultants on separate cards (me as Exhibit Coordinator and as a photographer).  Community residents were thrilled to see such fascinating photographs of their friends; I got more congratulations than I did on my wedding day 55 years ago. It was a huge success, but then how could it not be when friends could view friends as art photo exhibit quality people — really beautiful faces.            

Every retirement community in America should present such an exhibit in honor of the true beauty of age. My community wants me to do another exhibit that might be called "Whiskers" (which is too restricting, I think). I've got other projects to work on so I say let thousands of photos bloom and as many coordinators. It can really be fun.

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