We often see images in the media, in magazines, or online as reflections of ourselves and of our society. And while ageing certainly isn’t without its challenges, being exceptionally unfair for many – particularly those from marginalised communities – there’s still lots of joy, positivity and happiness to be found, which is so rarely portrayed in the photographs that we see.
Negative and stereotypical imagery often take centre stage when depicting ageing or older people – whether that’s derisory imagery in print media or the glamorised, often unattainable lifestyles shown in magazines with an older readership.
At the Centre for Ageing Better, we are working to change this by promoting more realistic and diverse depictions of later life.
That’s why we created our age-positive image library. The first of its kind, Ageing Better’s image library is full of authentic, positive photos of older people covering a variety of themes and settings, including older LGBT+ people, older and Disabled people getting active, and our newest collection, showing the amazing work of unpaid carers.
The collection of nearly 2,000 photographs can be accessed through Ageing Better’s website, where you can search for images by topic or keyword. If you’re finding it hard to navigate, we’ve also written a short guide to using the library.
Famously they say that a picture is worth a thousand words. So, when photographs of over 50s are solely wrinkly hands or a patronising depiction of frailty and vulnerability, it’s no wonder that many people unwittingly harbour negative perceptions of ageing. Our research showed that less than half of people hold positive sentiments towards ageing – with people in their fifties and sixties the most likely to feel negatively.
Being age-positive doesn’t mean being naïve, though. We all have different views and experiences of ageing, and the image library aims to provide a truthful glimpse into the enormous variety that exists amongst older people. Age-positive doesn’t mean showing older people only in a euphoric state or positive situation – it can be equally distorting and unrealistic to portray older people as living their best life by skydiving or running marathons. There is a medium to be found, between this exceptionalism and abject misery, that is the experience of many older people.
The images are totally free for everyone – whether it’s for use in your organisation, a newspaper article or for a presentation, anyone can view, download, we are encouraging as many people as possible to use and share the images.
Already, the image library has been nominated for two prestigious charity awards for its fresh approach to depicting older people, with photographs in the library having been viewed over 15 million times and accumulating over 85,000 downloads.
This overwhelmingly positive response to our initiative shows us just how much appetite there is for positive and genuine photos that reflect a reality that’s more in line with people’s lived experiences. Watch this space for what aspect of older living we will focus on next…
Senior Programme Manager – Ageism
The Centre for Ageing Better
See also #NoWrinklyHands (Professor Thomas Scharf, January 2021)