Photography is a strange phenomenon. You trust your eye and you cannot help
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Yang Zhou (China): Daytime Escape

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© Yang Zhou from "Daytime Escape", 2013Always, we have an unspeakable pitiful feeling towards an aged beauty. A writer could create huge amount of words for this vague sorrow, but in fact, what the sorrow implies is that old age is the opposite of everything we considered valuable: youth, power, beauty, etc. In our subconsciousness, we fear the process of aging. To me, this fear is more deeply rooted: my grandma’s an Alzheimer disease sufferer. She was well educated and worked as award-winning designers in fabric factories. I was shocked and frightened by how her mind had deteriorated. However, this fear towards old age inspired me to seek knowledge of it.

Therefore, summer 2010, I became frequenter of a sheltered home for the elderly people in London, interviewing and taking portraits of the residents there. During my shooting process, I was impressed by their calm and their willingness to accept it and change it into something productive. It made me feel ashamed when one of them said “Worrying about it won’t change anything, so it’s better to channel your energy into something else”. As one of them said, the elderly are very diverse. Therefore I began this project “Daytime Escape”, which takes a close look into a daytime caring centre for the elderly in a neighbourhood upon my returning to Shanghai, China.

Early in 1979, Shanghai became the first city in China to grow old. In the past 30 years, the aged population in Shanghai rised dramatically, and doubled the speed of the national average. In such context, daytime caring centres appear in some neighbourhood, which shares the young adults’ responsibility of taking care of the old parents without sending them into a nursery home. Somehow in the traditional Chinese view, sending parents to a nursery home is considered morally “wrong”. This particular daytime caring centre that I’ve documented is hosted by a local NGO and tries to use artistic activity to keep the attendants’ mind active. Since its opening in April, I tried to be there once a week, to make friends with the seniors there and to find the most suitable way of telling the story.

I was surprised that they expressed no objection to the camera: I was well accepted in the very first beginning. They longed to be visited by the younger generation. We didn’t talk much, but they returned every greeting with a smile. And they hugged each other, and hugged me. Before knowing them, I could not imagine that easterners would express feelings with hugs as well. Although insights of life or religion or politics do not appear in our conversation as with my previous sitters, I was still impressed by a lot of things. I was impressed by their colourful little towels, which made me think of kinder-gardens; I was impressed by the way they talked about the TV programmes of previous night—they talked like teenagers; I was impressed by the cheer and energetic atmosphere in the centre. Maybe this positive image is group hypnosis, a collective escape from the pains coming with the age. If it does make them happy, even if only for the daytime, it is a good thing.

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