On 29th and 30th of October, LCF hosted Mirror Mirror, a pioneering conference on fashion, culture, age and ageing. Provoking new thoughts on age in relation to style and identity, the conference welcomed leading academic researchers and professors to John Prince’s Street in the heart of London.
Organised by Dr Hannah Zeilig of LCF, the conference saw attendees come from across the world, and opened up a wealth of new conversation about ageing and culture, much of which will be featured in a special edition of the journal Age Culture Humanities.
International scholar, Dr Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Declining to Decline and Aged by Culture, opened the second day of the conference with her paper, “How (not) to Shoot Old People: Changing the paradigms of portrait photography”.
Gullette discussed how we can better represent age and the aged given that currently the elderly are banished from popular imagery or made out to be strange, deathly or comic. The academic focused around four key words that need to drive the creation of new photographic images of age: desire, identification, admiration, and companionship.
Identifying the problem Gullette said:
“Food is often photographed more carefully than old people are. We need to fight every day to reclaim the image culture around old age.”
The academic and writer considered a set of images which, she argued, manage to reclaim the imagery around ageing. Speaking about Jeff Wall’s ‘The Giant’ and works by the photojournalist Gordon Parks, as well as amateur images, Gullette identified the key aesthetics which reveal the aged to be vital and central forces in their own lives and the lives of others.
Professor Julia Twigg, who has recently contributed a chapter on ageing to an LCF co-edited publication, The Handbook of Fashion Studies, presented her paper, “Moving Younger: Dress, Age and Fashion”, considering how we react to ageism in our dress and through our interaction with fashion. Twigg, also identified the problems of invisibility of older people within fashion imagery, and revealed how this impacts on how we identify ourselves through dress as we age: Do we want to appear ‘younger’? What does this say about our view of age? Are older people now ‘allowed’ to be fashionable?
Questions from the audience sparked interesting debate. When asked if as we age, we are allowed to ‘let ourselves go’, as opposed to maintain a fashionable image, Twigg replied:
“This is part of the problem of the ‘freedom to be fashionable’ into old age. We also need to be able to say, we don’t care how we look, we’re not interested in how people see us.”
Discussions in the lecture theatre and online, also centred on Professor Jane McCann’s “Style Trend for Active Ageing”, Dr Lorna Warren’s “Storying Ageing through Visual Media”, Professor Roberta Mock’s “Joan Rivers’ Body of Performance” and Dr Ros Jennings’ “Women, Later Life Style and Popular Music”.
The speakers and audience members – a group made up of artists, performers, activists, and writers, are invited to submit papers and other forms of work to the special edition of Age Culture Humanities linked with the conference. There will also be an online space which reflects and elaborates the printed journal.