The first stage of the project is the process of generating materials. It takes place at reunions and other gatherings of women 65 and older who are connected by a shared experience in educational, professional, or social contexts. With permission from the organizers, I contact the attendees to tell them about the project and ask to take their photographs during the gathering. I also ask the attendees to bring a yearbook photo or other picture of herself as a teenager that I can scan.
At the reunion, I set up a photographic studio space and take formal portraits of those wishing to participate. In addition, I ask the women to write responses to fourteen provocative prompts that I supply, beginning with ‘Then I was… Now I am…” and “I always thought… Now I know…” These responses remain anonymous.
Next I create diptychs: the old teenage photos side by side with the new portraits I have taken.
I assemble the diptychs into a slide show that illustrates graphically the passage of decades of life. I also edit the responses to the prompts to create a comprehensive, cohesive sampling of what the women have written. This constitutes the first material-gathering part of the project.
The second part of the project is the presentation of this material to groups of women of mixed age, with an emphasis on women at both ends of the age spectrum. The audience views the slides as I read the responses. At the end, I invite the women to organize themselves into groups of about ten individuals, and to sit next to someone in the group they don’t know and who is not their age. I distribute sheets with the same prompt questions that accompanied the photos, beginning with “Then I was… Now I am…”, and encourage the women to explore with each other their reactions to the photos and words they have just seen and heard, and consider what their own responses to those questions might be.
Venues for these presentations can include any organization in which women of different generations interact. Groups of potential interest include women’s organizations such as sisterhoods connected to churches and synagogues, and museums and other institutions that want to honor their older women members and connect them to younger members in a meaningful way. Other potential groups include high schools and colleges, with women faculty members providing the multi-generational environment for the students.
Presentations can also provide the opportunity for older women in the group to participate in generating new “Then I was… Now I am…” materials for presentation to future multi-generational gatherings. A further option is a display of large format diptych prints in advance of, during and after the presentation giving viewers the opportunity to leave their own thoughts and comments either by writing them down or inputting them electronically.