A punk-rocker, a mountain sheep farmer and wild swimmers are amongst the subjects of a new photography exhibition opening in Aberystwyth today.

The images by acclaimed photographer, Jon Poutney, aim to break down the negative stereotypes of older people. Twelve people from across Wales, aged 65 to 85, tell their stories through Jon's photo series, 'This is Older'. 

“I'm often inspired by the communities around me — my work is rooted in people, place, and history," says Jon. “I hope that with these extraordinary stories told through imagery, we can change the narrative around older people and showcase the depth and breadth of experience we gain when growing old.”

The National Wales: Roddy Moreno, 64. Photo: Jon PoutneyRoddy Moreno, 64. Photo: Jon Poutney

Roddy Moreno, 64, from Grangetown in Cardiff, says age hasn’t dimmed his love of music.

A skinhead and anti-fascist, he has toured the world with the Welsh Oi! band The Oppressed. Oi! is a subgenre of punk rock that originated in the late 1970s. 

Roddy, in his inimitable way, said: “You’re never too old to f*** the system.” 

“It’s like they say - age is just a number, and it is. Do you want to still enjoy life? Or do you want to just settle into misery? I feel sorry for those who settle for the misery.”

The National Wales: Chrissy Bolton is a 65 year old cancer survivor from Llandrillo yn Rhos in Conwy. She lost her partner in 2019 and says sea swimming makes her feel alive and invigorated because it eases the symptoms of fibromyalgia and polymyalgia. Photo: Jon PoutneyChrissy Bolton is a 65 year old cancer survivor from Llandrillo yn Rhos in Conwy. She lost her partner in 2019 and says sea swimming makes her feel alive and invigorated because it eases the symptoms of fibromyalgia and polymyalgia. Photo: Jon Poutney

"It was super ambitious to take on this project over the last summer as we came out of the pandemic," says Jon. "But the subjects of the portraits have become friends, and have spurred me to keep going.

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"This commission has really allowed me to develop and riff upon the ideas that I have worked around for some time - evocations of a sense of a place, notions of community, and exploration of the nature of portraiture." 

The National Wales: Jim Young, 72, from Mumbles is a former nurse and medical researcher turned poet, photographer and wild swimmer. Photo: Jon PoutneyJim Young, 72, from Mumbles is a former nurse and medical researcher turned poet, photographer and wild swimmer. Photo: Jon Poutney

"The group I have photographed are all about getting the maximum of what time we have allotted; making the most of being alive and not just counting down the time we have left.

"Living for the moment and enjoying what we have without regret is a great way to live, and a lesson I have learned this summer through my conversations with the friends I have made doing this project."

The National Wales: Linette Johnson, 71, at STARGarlott Community Allotment in Splott, Cardiff. Photo: Jon PoutneyLinette Johnson, 71, at STARGarlott Community Allotment in Splott, Cardiff. Photo: Jon Poutney

The National Wales: Sheila Kamala, 78, at STARGarlott Community Allotment in Splott, Cardiff. Photo: Jon PoutneySheila Kamala, 78, at STARGarlott Community Allotment in Splott, Cardiff. Photo: Jon Poutney

Both Linette Johnson and Sheila Kamala credit an active life with keeping them on their toes. They dislike it when older people are portrayed as passive and deserving of pity.

Linette said: “We don’t fit into that mould [of older stereotypes] and a lot of people don’t fit into that mould. The image one had, say 30 years ago, of an older person —that’s totally changed.”

Jon admits that sometimes, photographing people can be quite a strange process: "Often you’re called upon to find the essence of someone you’ve just met, and that has obvious difficulties.

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"I firstly rely on my experience as a photographer to spot a composition in a scenario, and secondly, and especially with a project like this, I look at the environment that the person has chosen to be photographed in. The two together can tell a story.

"For instance, the portrait of Linette in the greenhouse door in this project. The colours all worked, and her actions tell a story about who she is and what she’s doing." 

The National Wales: The Taibach Rugby Club pantomime performers, Port Talbot. Photo: Jon PoutneyThe Taibach Rugby Club pantomime performers, Port Talbot. Photo: Jon Poutney

The National Wales: The Taibach Rugby Club pantomime performers, Port Talbot. Photo: Jon PoutneyThe Taibach Rugby Club pantomime performers, Port Talbot. Photo: Jon Poutney

Jon told The National he has always sought to bring photographic art to the forefront of our cultural conversation in Wales. 

He describes his longest running project - Cardiff Before Cardiff - as "a meditation on the tropes of documentary and street photography". The collection was published by Y Lolfa, and became an exhibition at the Wales Millennium Centre in 2013. 

The National Wales: Dr Annie Ravenhill-Johnson, 80, lives in Ceredigion. Photo: Jon PoutneyDr Annie Ravenhill-Johnson, 80, lives in Ceredigion. Photo: Jon Poutney

Jon describes the way older people are depicted in general as "pretty dire".

"It’s mostly negative," he says. "Funeral plans, devices for aching limbs, disembodied withered hands... Older people are shown as being a separate group from the rest of society, as a problem with associated costs, and it really makes me angry."

The National Wales: Patrick Dobbs, 85, from Llanddeusant is a mountain sheep farmer who hopes to still be working his Brecon Beacon-based farm for “another ten years, with a bit of help.” Photo: Jon PoutneyPatrick Dobbs, 85, from Llanddeusant is a mountain sheep farmer who hopes to still be working his Brecon Beacon-based farm for “another ten years, with a bit of help.” Photo: Jon Poutney

The National Wales: Paul Searle, 68, and partner Jackie Bagnall, 61, have transformed their allotment garden in Penarth. Photo: Jon PoutneyPaul Searle, 68, and partner Jackie Bagnall, 61, have transformed their allotment garden in Penarth. Photo: Jon Poutney

Jon added: "The subjects themselves are a lovely set of people, all with an inspiring viewpoint and open mind on life itself.
"It's been really important to me to challenge the perceptions of an 'older generation', and how society represents them in the media."

Led by Age Cymru, who collaborated with Jon to bring it to fruition, the This is Older exhibition goes on show at the Gregynog Gallery in The National Library for Wales until December 10. It will also feature in a permanent digital library. 

The launch coincides with The United Nations International Day of the Older Person, which has been held on October 1 every year since 1990.

Victoria Lloyd, Chief Executive of Age Cymru, said there was no such thing as a "typical" older person: “We’re so proud of the exhibition and Jon’s work, and hope the public enjoy learning about the lives behind the photos as much as we have.”

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