In the face of death, where do you begin reflecting on life?
Steve Rosenfield, What I Be Project founder, has proven time and again that no topic is off limits. The project often focuses on younger people and their insecurities. So when the Salem Lutheran Home for assisted living called him to photograph their elderly before it was “too late,” he jumped at the chance.
2. “I am not my age.”
3. “I am not my Alzheimer’s.”
“I didn’t know if people were going to be totally with it,” said Steve. “Literally. I didn’t know if they’d be present with me or off in another world.”
Part of Steve’s process for the What I Be Project includes interviewing each participant to establish their insecurity and what they want to display on their skin. In this instance, he spent about 20-30 minutes with each of the 18 individuals photographed. Their ages ranged from 71 up to 100.
4. “I am not my tomorrow.”
5. “I am not my anxiety.”
6. “I am not my number.”
90 years old at the time of image capture, Ellen (above) was the oldest participant in the project before the Salem Lutheran Home images were released.
Steve shares that “these people have so much history behind their lives. World War II. Growing up and getting married to someone who is black when you’re white during the civil rights movement.”
7. “I am not my marriage.”
Through this process, Steve discovered a common thread among them all. As far as Steve could tell, “They just want to be okay with being themselves. They don’t want to be fake.”
8. “I am not my distress.”
Can you look at the above image and be empathetic before offended?
9. “I am not my appearance.”
Here’s a few more on not faking it.
10. “I am not my compliments.”
11. “I am not my criticism.”
12. “I am not my conversations.”
Although many of these images have to do with old age, a few are familiar to the project’s youth demographic.
13. “I am not my identity.”
14. “I am not my weight.”
“When you get that old you start to lose track of what your insecurities used to be,” says Steve. “They have more important things to worry about than what their ego might be hurt by. They don’t have patience for bullshit. They don’t want to live older because things start going. Their heart, lungs, cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s.”
15. “I am not my hatred.”
16. “I am not my cane.”
17. “I am not my surgery.”
Having recently been through a pretty difficult end of life journey with my own grandmother, I have one request–respect your elders. If the opportunity still exists, take a second to have a conversation with your nearest and dearest. Maybe a stranger. Remember that the elderly have led long lives before those lines became a prominent feature. Take your time with them and listen.
18. “I am not my pace.”
What is the What I Be Project?
Steve Rosenfield’s What I Be Project encourages millions, globally, to courageously address their insecurities. What started as an experiment in 2010 has since transformed into a full-blown, and sometimes, controversial movement. The subject of an image will share verbiage on his or her skin related to their insecurity. They accept this as part of who they are, however, acknowledging it does not define their whole being. Steve clicks the shutter and posts the photograph online.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photos: What I Be Project by Steve Rosenfield