Honouring Seniors Creative Photography project

·5 min read

South Algonquin Township posted an ad on their Facebook page on March 16 about the Honouring Seniors Creative Photography project. It has been conceived of, organized and coordinated by lead photographer Maureen MacMillan and Ottawa Valley Community Arts’ Anya Gansterer. According to Holly Hayes, the CAO/clerk treasurer, it was sent their way by Jennifer Bennett Pond at the Community Resource Centre Senior Active Living Centre, and was putting out a call for any seniors in South Algonquin who wanted to participate.

While MacMillan came up with the idea, it is being coordinated by Ottawa Valley Community Arts. Gansterer and Andrew Trull are the artistic directors and program coordinators. Kathy Blomquist is the seniors support consultant and the community partners are the Community Resource Centre, the CRC Senior Active Living Centre and the Barry’s Bay and area Senior Citizens Home Support Services. In addition to being the co-artistic director and program coordinator for this project, Gansterer is also a partner in Placemaking Design, the firm that helped South Algonquin revamp their website last year.

The photography project was made possible by a federal grant from New Horizons for Seniors. Gansterer says that the grant fit with the work the government wanted the funding to cover and what the Ottawa Valley Community Arts wanted to do as an organization, so they made it happen.

While they have had good response overall, Gansterer says they would still like to get more seniors involved from South Algonquin.

“I just had one woman phone up and sign up from South Algonquin and we were just talking about some of the areas we’re missing. Some are a bit lower and South Algonquin was one of those areas where we thought okay, we really need to get more people out there,” she says.

Hayes also said she would love to see more of her township elders take part.

“I have been secretly emailing my friends to try to get them to talk their parents and grandparents into it,” she says.

MacMillan is the lead photographer and has been a professional photographer who has been doing photography as a side hustle since 2016. She owns and operates Gal Capone Photography in Wilno, and also works at EarlyON Toy Bus and teaches part time at Algonquin College. She works with Nikon photography gear and currently shoots with a D750 with a 35 mm lens, using natural light as much as possible.

The idea is to create 50 portraits of seniors aged 65 years and older, within the upper Ottawa Valley area and South Algonquin.

“I have always had a soft spot for seniors and love working with them and learning from them. I am absolutely honoured to be a part of this project,” she says.

Gansterer says MacMillan’s vision fit really well into what her organization wanted, which was bringing the beauty and contribution of seniors into the public sphere and to the forefront.

The project started last summer, and will continue on until October 2021. They have had a great response so far, and MacMillan has taken about 26 of the 50 photographs. She concedes that working within the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 has slowed things down a bit. The procedure is pretty standard, and follows the health and safety guidelines set out by the ongoing pandemic, like distancing, masks and hand hygiene.

“So far it has felt really safe for everyone involved. My biggest concern, especially in the midst of a pandemic that has affected so many seniors, is the health and well being of the people I am photographing,” she says.

MacMillan describes the process when someone expresses interest in participating. First, they have a conversation about what they’d like the portrait to convey.

“The photographs are intended to incorporate something that speaks to who the person is. This might be a favourite hobby, favourite spot, with someone they love, in traditional costume or regalia, or living out their wildest, craziest fantasy. For instance, I’ve taken photos of people on their horses, in their gardens, at their family homesteads, riding bikes and holding chickens. We’ve also taken photos of seniors who volunteer for local organizations, and a few of the Red Hat Society ladies. We are really trying to showcase the diversity of seniors in this area as well as speak to the fact that seniors are vibrant, energetic, beautiful people who are still so engaged in life,” she says.

MacMillan says there are many misconceptions about seniors and they are really trying to break through those walls with this project. The end result will be an exhibition that will travel around the region. There will also be a print book that will be available for purchase and there will be some audio elements like interviews and soundscapes that will be incorporated into the final project.

“Our tentative date for exhibition is March 2022. The portraits that we will be using for the exhibit will not be seen by anyone until the exhibition date. We really want people to come out and be excited to see themselves and their loved ones in these photographs,” she says.

Once someone expresses interest in the project by contacting Gansterer at 613-633-1236 or anya@ov-caos.org, an information package is sent to them. MacMillan says that someone on the team will have a phone conversation with subjects about what they’d like to convey in their portraits. After that, MacMillan gets in touch with them to further hone the photo concept and to determine a location and time. The audio elements, if selected, are done in a separate session.

The feedback from the photo subjects has been incredible, according to MacMillan, and she says people have commented on how great they feel after the session.

“I think for many it’s an uplifting experience. Everyone deserves a moment to shine and be honoured for who they are as human beings. It is wonderful to witness the smiles, joy and laughter that comes along with these sessions,” she says. “I have made some wonderful connections and have learned so much about the history of these areas we live in.”

Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times