Aging across America: Vigorous, vital and full of life
A geriatric specialist is using photography to challenge stereotypes and show people thriving as they journey into old age.
Aging ain’t necessarily what it’s cracked up to be. Just ask Dr. Jeffrey Levine, a New York-based geriatric specialist and professional photographer who has spent the past two decades documenting what he describes as “the biggest demographic transformation in human history”: a time when more people than ever are reaching very old ages. Levine's “Aging Across America” photography exhibit is on display at the National Arts Club in New York City through Sept. 21.
Levine captured this photo at an “over 70” running race on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in 2010. Several of the runners pictured here are more than 90 years old. Levine described the woman wearing the No. 337 bib as a “geriatric super athlete” who, at the age of 90, climbed 1,576 steps of the Empire State Building in just 22 minutes.
Levine described Edith McAllister, pictured here, as one of the most amazing people he's ever met. “She loves swimming and water-skied into her 90s," he said. “I photographed her in her daily exercise at the pool.”
Jamming for decades
“I like to challenge stereotypes and show how people can thrive both physically and spiritually as they journey into old age,” said Levine, who took this photo of saxophone player and pennywhistle soloist Les Lieber in 2010. For nearly 50 years, Lieber performed every Friday at the Jazz at Noon jam sessions he founded in New York. He was in his 90s when Levine photographed him.
Laughter is great medicine
“Gladys and Elaine are friends since high school,” Levine said. “Every Sunday they meet at a coffee shop in South Harbor, Maine and catch up on gossip.”
Hip and happy
After spending her life working as a makeup artist, this woman started working in a costume shop in Las Vegas, where Levine met up with her in 2010. “I was impressed by the way she did her eyes, so I took her picture,” Levine said.
Fire in the belly
Gibsonton, Fla., is known as the wintering grounds for circus workers, many of whom are growing old. Levine traveled to Gibsonton and captured this photo of a circus performer known as Mr. Poobah, who has spent his career performing a fire-eating act. Levine noted that he “has few hairs left on his face.”
Focused and calm
Levine took this photo at a tai chi class at a senior center in Queens, N.Y., that is popular with Asian-Americans. “Abe, the teacher, was a patient of mine who invited me to visit,” Levine said.
Ralph and Dick, pictured here, had been together for more than 40 years before they legally wed in New York state. “I photographed them in their backyard in upstate New York,” Levine said.
Granny Peace Brigade
The Raging Grannies is an international group of activists who use street theater, humor, satire and props as they demonstrate about issues tied to social justice. Levine photographed them marching in New York's Times Square in 2010.
Proud and strong
J.T. Freeman, left, is one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military aviators who served in the United States armed forces during World War II. Pictured with him is an admiring friend who served in the Marines in Vietnam.
Meet the Hub Club
In California’s Bay Area, the city of Fremont is home to a large population of Indian and Pakistani immigrants. “A group of elders meets every Saturday at a shopping mall called the Fremont Hub, and call themselves the Hub Club,” Levine said.
A rich ancestry
Brandon Williams is a Native American from the Navajo tribe who paints visions of his ancestors. He is pictured here with his painting of his great-grandfather, Standing Horse. Levine photographed Williams at the Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico in 2012.
These days, it’s quite common to see die-hard bikers in their 70s and 80s at the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. “Hope, passion and something to look forward to – including next year’s Sturgis – is something that keeps people alive,” Levine noted.
A love of medicine and art
As a doctor specializing in geriatric medicine, Levine sees patients at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City and serves on the faculty at Albert Einstein Medical Center. He’s also traveled the world over documenting aging in various cultures. “As a geriatrician I am aware of our common human destiny of growing old and the need for a view of aging that inspires and teaches,” Levine said.
To see more images from Levine’s “Aging Across America” portfolio and other photography projects, click here. To learn more about his New York exhibit, click here.