The Last Word - Steve Bedell: Antoinette

by Peter Skinner

Steve Bedell

January 01, 2010 — Steve Bedell’s powerful black-and-white portrait of an elderly woman afflicted by dementia is from his acclaimed “Forgotten Generation” project (published in Rangefinder, January 2008), initiated to highlight the too often lonely and neglected twilight years of the elderly. The catalyst was a visit to the care center where his mother-in-law was residing.

“As I rounded the corner, I saw her roommate sleeping in her wheelchair in the hallway. Even though the lighting was not dramatic, the way her head hung down on her withered hands immediately struck me. I had been coming to this place for years, and I had been blind. As a portrait photographer, I photographed chubby babies, beautiful women, men in the prime of their lives—but who would photograph the elderly, the generation that would be forgotten and overlooked by photographers and many others?” he says.

It was a defining moment and since then, Steve has made it his calling to preserve these wonderful faces for posterity. Integral to his modus operandi is to make a more traditional pleasing photograph of the subject and give the family a 5 x 7-inch print. He then proceeds to dig a little deeper and create evocative, revealing portraits that portray his subjects in typical and more realistic moments when they are oblivious to their surroundings and the camera. “These are the images I want to share with my fellow photographers. These are the images that will attract your attention and perhaps prompt you to join me and the many other photographers who are now photographing the elderly so that they will not become the forgotten generation,” says Steve.

The artistic portrait here—of Antoinette—is one of Steve’s favorites, and with good reason. “My wife, Lorraine, helps me with this project, and we made the color family portrait very quickly. Because of Antoinette’s dementia, we were able to hold her attention for only a minute as I took several pleasing photographs of her. She then put her head in her hands and was left to her thoughts. That is when I made the artistic, or what I prefer to call her ‘real’, portrait. She was totally unaware of the camera at that point,” Steve says.
Steve decided to make black-and-white images, using a plain white background to avoid distractions, to realize his vision of the portraits being a powerful and timeless testament to the subjects.  

The portrait of Antoinette has won numerous awards and the story in Rangefinder prompted a flood of emails from photographers across the country who decided to follow Steve’s lead in creating similar portraits of the elderly. To see more of Steve Bedell’s work go to www.stevebedell.com.

Peter Skinner is a freelance writer, photographer and author with than 25 years experience in the photo industry. His magazine articles and photography have been published internationally and he has co-authored or edited numerous publications and books including the 5th and 6th editions of the authoritative ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography (Allworth Press). His latest book is Sports Photography: How to Capture Action and Emotion (Allworth Press). He can be reached at: prsskinner@bigpond.com.

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