Look At Me!

Representing self - representing ageing

Back to all projects Look At Me!

The aim of this study is to use creative arts to negotiate and challenge images of ageing and explore their contribution to participatory approaches to research in social gerontology.

This initiative has brought together researchers from gerontology and art therapy, an independent photographer/therapist, and Eventus, a cultural development agency based in Sheffield.

Three different blocks of workshops will be run with a range of older women who will be invited to explore media and cultural representations of older women and use videographic and photographic techniques to create their own images of ageing. The exact format of the workshops will be negotiated with participants.

Exhibitions of representations, produced during the projects and released with participants’ agreement, will follow from the workshops. The invited audiences to the exhibitions (including participants, policy-makers, local politicians, older people's organisations, as well as members of the public) will have the opportunity to give their responses to the images via talking head videos.

Alongside the talking head videos, the initiative will be documented and evaluated using observation, interviews, short questionnaires, self-reflective diaries, video diaries and sketch-books. A website and DVD of the initiative will also be produced.

Investigator(s)

  • Lorna Warren, principal investigator, University of Sheffield
  • Merryn Gott, co-investigator, University of Auckland
  • Susan Hogan, co-investigator, University of Derby

Team

  • Naomi Richards, researcher, University of Sheffield
  • Judith Taylor, project administrator, University of Sheffield
  • Claire Allam, film-maker/producer, University of Sheffield

Partners and Collaborators

  • Clare McManus, Eventus, Sheffield
  • Rosy Martin, freelance photo-therapist
  • Monica Fernandez, photographer
  • Laura Pannack, photographer

Contact details

Lorna Warren

Background

The Second World Assembly on Ageing (2003) recognised a need to challenge stereotyped images of ageing and later life, particularly those related to older women. The use of visual methods as a means of allowing older women to articulate their experiences of ageing is one way of doing this but, to date, 'ordinary' older women have not had the opportunity to either comment on, or create, their own images of ageing and old age.

This is an important omission given that the limited images that are popularly available either present older people as dependent and frail, or as ageing 'positively' and belying their physical age. Representations of ageing are particularly important to older women because their experiences of ageing (and ageism) are deeply rooted in appearance. In particular, the perception of their aged bodies makes them invisible in later life and can affect their social status and access to resources and opportunities.

Such invisibility is being explored and challenged by women both within popular culture and through academic work but still in limited ways: for example, television programmes uncritically buy into the anti-ageing industry and focus on heterosexual women. Biographical accounts have been written largely by white, middle class feminists or explore relatively specific aspects of the lived body.

Female artists have produced new images challenging conventional stereotypes of older women, and practitioners and researchers are increasingly using visual methods as a tool for personal empowerment and social critique. Such approaches offer a way forward for older women’s participation beyond their typical involvement in research as users of welfare services.

Aims/objectives

The study will ask how media and cultural representations of older people have conveyed ideas and expectations about age and gender.

The aims are to:

  • enable older women drawn from different community settings to create their own images of ageing using a variety of visual and textual methods;
  • explore the relationship between cultural and creative activity and later life well-being;
  • reflect upon the contribution of visual ‘real life methods’ to participatory processes;
  • demonstrate the contribution of arts and humanities to critical gerontology;
  • enhance recognition, by policy makers and the wider public, of the authority, wisdom and productivity of older women.

Design

Research methods

This initiative will bring together a team of researchers and practitioners from the fields of later life studies, art therapy and photo-therapy with a shared interest in ageing and gender, along with a cultural development agency which aims to use the transformative power of the arts to make a difference to people and places.

Four sets of workshops will be run will be run with a diverse range of older women who will be invited to: 1) explore media and cultural representations of older women; and 2) use videographic and photographic techniques to create their own images of ageing. The exact format of the workshops, and the ways in which older women's experiences of participation will be captured, will be negotiated with participants.

Exhibitions of representations, produced during the projects and released with the agreement of individual participants, will be organised following the workshops. The invited audiences to the exhibitions (including participants, policy makers, local politicians, older people's organisations, as well as members of the public) will have the opportunity to give their responses to the images via talking head videos.

Alongside the talking head videos, the initiative will be documented and evaluated using a variety of methods including observation, interviews (with the research team and participants), short questionnaires, recorded discussions among participants, and visual elicitation techniques.

Outcomes

The impact of this innovative project will be:

  1. Practical, in older women’s production of visual materials providing powerful statements about women’s experiences of ageing and equipping them with a novel means of challenging stereotyping.

  2. methodological, in developing new approaches to participatory research with older people.

  3. Theoretical, in demonstrating the contribution methods developed in the arts can make to the discipline of social gerontology.
  4. Applied, in providing the policy-making arena with new ways of capturing needs and fostering well-being and social inclusion through longer-term interest in arts among older women and also audiences viewing their work.

The different visual and textual material generated through the projects will offer a mosaic of outputs including:

  • images reproduced as postcards and banners and represented in local media, in addition to being shown at the exhibitions;
  • a collaboratively produced website and a DVD to be distributed to participants and relevant stakeholders;
  • a consolidated research report on ageism, gender, the arts and social inclusion;
  • academic journal articles and conference presentations in the fields of gerontology, the arts, visual and cultural studies, expressive therapies, sociology and social policy;
  • presentations, articles and policy briefings for professionals and practitioners involved in arts and health projects within the region;
  • the potential of producing a book to document the project will also be explored with participants

Policy implications

Key policy and/or practice impacts of the research

Policy and practice implications will concern the general need to challenge stereotyped images of ageing and later life and to facilitate contributions of older women to the representation (by the media) of their activities, experiences and concerns (Second World Assembly on Ageing, 2003: 45). This will involve policy makers and practitioners primarily in the fields of social exclusion, equality, housing, health and social care, adult education, and community arts:

  • recognising the contribution of visual methods in capturing and recording older women's experiences and needs, especially in relation to welfare;
  • recognising the contribution of visual methods in capturing and recording older women's social exclusion;
  • recognising the relationship between cultural and creative activity and later-life well-being;
  • recognising the relationship between cultural and creative activity and social inclusion;
  • providing support/resources for older women to create their own images of ageing and later life using community arts-, education- and health/therapy-based approaches, as well as through one-off arts-based workshop events;
  • promoting the use of visual methods/data in assessing needs and potentially evaluating service provision;
  • promoting the wider visibility of images of older women throughout the city, in traditional (e.g. galleries) and non-traditional (e.g. Meadowhall) settings;
  • supporting older women's full involvement in the design and organisation of the above processes.

Key non-academic user groups that will be targeted

  • older women living in Sheffield;
  • older women's family/ friends/ carers;
  • younger women with an interest in the issues explored by the project;
  • older (and younger) men with an interest in the issues explored by the project;
  • the local Sheffield communities within which the workshops were staged;
  • heath care professionals/staff;
  • social care and housing professionals/staff;
  • council/local authority employees concerned with issues of social exclusion;
  • care home proprietors and companies;
  • care home managers and staff;
  • designers of housing for older people;
  • educators of health, social care and housing professionals;
  • charities and other organisations representing older people, both living in the community and in care homes;
  • arts communities locally, nationally and internationally;
  • any other policy makers and service providers who use visual approaches/ images of older people in their work.

Assistance needed from the NDA programme in this targeting

  • a high corporate and political profile for the overall NDA programme to maximise the policy and practice impacts of the RSRA initiative;
  • the promotion of findings to a wide range of non-user groups;
  • facilitation of contacts with non-academic user groups;
  • assistance in identifying and inviting individuals with relevant policy making responsibilities, as well as other potentially interested non-academic stakeholders, to the exhibitions of work;
  • support to develop and produce targeted user-friendly information and recommendations in hard copy and on the web;
  • help with disseminating a press release(s) to announce key milestones and pitching the story as a feature to key publications, including regional, national, international and trade and specialist press and media. Possibilities could include an interview on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, Marie Claire, Red, The Observer, Women's Weekly, Yorkshire Post and BBC Radio Sheffield. There is also scope, depending on the results of the research, for a pitch to be made to programmes such as This Morning, Loose Women and the BBC One Show where the researchers could be interviewed alongside workshop participants.

Links

Look at Me project website

Project publications

Publication list

All 35 NDA project publication lists

 

Findings

News & Events

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