‘Thou shalt not age’ by Nuala Mahon.
In part three of the Context and Narrative course, students explore the notion of self. Students are asked to produce work in response to a diary. Nuala Mahon explains in the introduction to her work, how the idea of invisibility with age intrigued her. She explains on her blog:
“But the idea of how or why women feel invisible interests me. Is it driven by consumerism that glorifies youth and perfection? Is it that, with age, we are less sexually attractive? Or is it that one really does become invisible with age? I wanted to try to represent this invisibility.”
Being of a certain indiscriminate age (46 if you must ask), and with several of my closest friends a few years older I wasn’t sure how to take being asked to write about this work.
Like the student, I turned grey many years ago. Recently I made a conscious decision to go with it and forgo the battle of hairdressers and dyes. What happened, I felt happier but there was a distinct change in how others approached me in social situations. This was mainly from people that I met for the first time, but I was being treated as old. In business meetings I was taken less seriously, good for making the coffee and baking cakes, my knowledge of technology was often disregarded.
At first, I didn’t realise this was happening. The image Inside I’m twenty from Nuala’s work accurately sums up how I feel as well.
The issue of the aging women has been explored recently by Helen Walmsley-Johnson in her book The Invisible Woman, she writes:
“It’s tempting to align this whole business with the way older women feel they fit , or not, within society as they age, to look at it as a by-blow of the importance placed on female physical beauty, as we currently define it. To put it very simply and generally, with age men become wealthier, more powerful, dignified, and wiser while women growing older sense all of that slipping away as their faces and bodies age and they feel themselves becoming more and more irrelevant, apparently. It might not sound like much but the small stuff, such as not being taken seriously (as a consumer, as an employee …) grinds us down and the further down we go the less cortisol we produce to deal with the stress of being on the lower rungs of the social pecking order.”
Nuala’s work touches on many of these ideas. In the image below the use of the mask creates a barrier between the viewer and subject. The idea of masquerade is well explored within photography.
The series of images is both arresting and interesting. There is a mix of styles and photographic technique, which could lead to the series appearing disparate. However, with the use of the overlaid text, the images are linked one to the next. At the same time, each image is able to stand on its own individual merit. The phrasing on all the images is not questioning but direct. The photographer it seems is instructing us on how we should question our views.
My own views on this work, are of course influenced by my feelings on the wider subject and part of the sharing of this work is to elicit responses from a wider audience.
What do other ages or genders feel about the aging process? Is it culturally specific as well? When I asked Nuala about the work, she cited her personal experience from being in France and Ireland as being very different. In France all ages seem to be happy to socialise together, whereas in Ireland she describes the younger generation as wishing to be totally separate from the older generations
In the final image of the series, we are met by the gaze of the subject. The look is direct, straight at the viewer and the text references a very well know slogan from the beauty industry. The addition of “I told you” is both definite and defiant.
This quote from Helen Walmsley-Johnson seems to encapsulate this work:
“That we will all age is inevitable and inescapable but it doesn’t alter the person we are inside; our character, memories, strength, personality and intelligence are what make us us.”