Living in Three Centuries: The Face of Age
Mark Story’s photo-series “Living in Three Centuries: The Face of Age”
The photographs for this portrait series were taken in various locations around the world between 1987 and 2005.
The Gerontology Research Group estimates there are 250,000 centenarians (people 100 years and older) currently living in the world. In rare instances, people live to 110 years and beyond, inspiring a new demographic label: supercentenarian. The Gerontology Research Group, through rigorous investigation of records, acknowledges about 65 supercentenarians, and estimates that about 350 are alive worldwide today.
The idea to photograph people who have lived in three centuries evolved over the course of the project. First, I was simply interested in taking portraits of people who appear worn beyond their years by living extraordinarily hard lives. Those experiences drew me to centenarians, and on to supercentenarians and their stories.
People consistently ask the same questions when viewing the portraits: How does a person live to be 114 years old? What do these long-lived people have in common that makes many of them look younger than people in their 90s, 80s and even 70s? The notes on aging is a short review of the current research on longevity.
The experience of talking with a 110 year-old man whose father stood next to Abraham Lincoln during the Gettysburg Address does not easily lend itself to words. A photograph seemed appropriate.
NOTES ON AGING
There have always been individuals who have lived into old age, but few have lived near the limits of the human lifespan. Currently, there are about 250,000 centenarians living in the world.
With so many people now living longer, a new demographic label has been created for those who have reached 110: supercentenarian. Within verifiable historical records, as of September 2005, according to the Gerontology Research Group*, fewer than 1,000 people have lived to 110, and only 17 people have reached the age of 115. The lifespan record is held by Madame Jeanne Calment of France, at 122 years 164 days.
Rather than aging more, centenarians and supercentenarians have successfully avoided debilitating diseases and injury, and aged more slowly. In general, their bodies have also postponed the chronic degenerative diseases of aging — heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease, until their last few years.
The Common Characteristics of Supercentenarians
Nearly all people who live to be 100 or older have long-lived relatives. A man with a sibling who lives to 100 years of age is 17 times more likely to live to 100 himself. Children of long-lived people also tend to have marked delays in the onset of cardiovascular disease.
Most of these supercentenarians said they made no conscious effort to eat nutritiously, and many simply stated that they just ate what they grew and raised on the farm. Nearly all supercentenarians have been lean for their entire lives, some naturally and some intentionally.
While some supercentenarians did drink alcohol, and several drank hard liquor, many never drank at all. Although most never smoked, one has a long history of smoking tobacco, and another used snuff for 103 years.
Many of these supercentenarians did not see a doctor until they were in their 90s. Some for lack of money, but more often, they just weren’t sick or injured enough to warrant a visit. Several, who had seen a doctor only a handful of times or never, also stated that they had never taken any medication.
Many supercentenarians, when in their early 100s, were mobile and quite active physically, mentally and socially, and able to live independently.
Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of long-lived people is a tendency to not react to stress with excessive worry. These people tend to like living, many are deeply spiritual, and most have a well-developed sense of humor.
At her 120th birthday party,
when Jeanne Calment was asked by a young journalist,
“Will I see you at next year’s birthday party?”
She instantly shot back,
“I don’t see why not;
you look pretty healthy to me!”
112 year 111 day-old
African American man —
the 16th oldest living person in the world,
and the oldest living man in the USA.
The oldest living World War I
combat veteran —
he earned the Victory Medal,
the Occupational Medal,
as well as the Legion of Honor —
France’s highest honor given
to surviving members of U.S. Armed Forces
who fought on French soil during World War I.
He returned home to farming,
married, had seven children,
and served as the superintendent
of his Sunday School class for 75 years.
He never smoked or drank alcohol;
and he takes no medicine, not even aspirin.
He drove until the age of 106,
when his children
decided to hide his car keys from him.
Navajo Native American woman
living near the rim
of Canyon de Chelly, Arizona.
She sat for twenty minutes
in 24-degree weather
in a thin jacket
while being photographed.
When I complained
that my fingers
“It’s not cold.”
For more photographs and informations visit: www.markstoryphotography.com
Notes in Aging