A harsh reality of our fast-paced 21st-century society, our contemporary culture that increasingly exists online and glamorises or even fetishises youth, is that the elderly are often either easily forgotten about, or actively cast aside. Relegated to retirement villages, housed in hospices or consigned to care homes, those of older age are hidden from view so as not to remind us of our own mortality, our future frailty and infirmity. While praised as veterans or prized as grandmothers or grandfathers, we prefer to overlook, ignore or excuse those reliant on others due to their predestined physical or mental degradation. However, in Gianna T’s photography series documenting the life of a fictional elderly couple, age is but a number and old age something to be spotlighted and celebrated.
Gianna’s native Pesaro, a small town on Italy’s Adriatic coast, fits the description of a ‘Silver City’, that trite title applied to areas with a particularly elderly population. Around a quarter of the city’s inhabitants are sixty-five years of age or older, more than double that of the demographic found in London and substantially superior to the global average of almost ten percent. During the artist’s adolescence, he worked as a carer for the town’s elderly. An influential experience that saw him quickly form close bonds with many of his clients, including one man a hundred years of age, whom Gianna visited almost every day over the course of two years. Without exception, he found each and every senior citizen eager to impart their wisdom gathered during lives well-lived. He became enamoured by their sharing of stories from bygone eras and was endlessly inspired by their vitality, lust for life and generosity of spirit.
Upon moving to London, having completed his undergraduate study at the Academy of Fine Arts Urbino, Gianna yearned to reconnect with that unique, youthful energy he had witnessed during his time as a carer. One evening, whilst window shopping online, he came across a pair of latex masks, one an elderly man, the other an ageing woman, and Mimmo and Rossa were born. Ever since the fancy dress false faces appeared, the artist, his partner and their friends would don the distinguished disguises and embody the elderly couple, all documented by Gianna’s candid polaroid photographs.
Of course, whilst over time this artistic acting exercise began to become increasingly real to Gianna, certain snapshots expose the artifice at play. The masks’ place as props is frequently foregrounded in photographs of them slung atop a stove, hung from a bathroom hook or draped across a dollhouse. Elsewhere muscled, nude or tattooed torsos belie their artificially aged visages, as does their engagement in certain strenuous activities such as wild swimming or skateboarding. Throughout, however, as viewers we willingly suspend disbelief in favour of falling for the fictional pensioners.
For, alongside its extolling of the aged and their inherent erudition, Mimmo and Rosa is above all a romantic tale. We witness the captivating couple playfully posing with friends and family, riding a merry-go-round, donning matching facemasks or embracing in front of a beachside ruin. We catch them kissing on the stairs, and in photographs of Mimmo or Rosa in isolation, we immediately imagine the other behind the camera, keenly capturing their shared life and shared love for posterity.