When photographer Arianne Clément was a child, she was very close to her grandmother, and she thought of her as a great beauty. A child doesn’t judge the creases and marks of age, they simply see what is in front of them.

But her grandmother didn’t appreciate her own good looks. In fact, so low was her opinion of her own appearance, she banned family members from taking pictures of her. 

“I think that’s how it started…” Ms Clément told HelloCare.

Images: Arianne Clément.

Image: Arianne Clément.

Devoted to portraying the elderly

After completing a degree in photography at the University of the Arts, London, Ms Clément travelled the world “far and wide” to find inspiration. She often found herself involved in humanitarian projects with marginalised populations, always her preferred subjects.

She now devotes her work to portraying the elderly. 

Her portraits of seniors have been exhibited internationally, and won her prizes, grants and honours. They have been published in major newspapers and prestigious journals all over the world.

Ms Clément’s works have also been popular online, most recently in Australia’s Head On exhibition, which has moved online this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

I wrote to Ms Clément and asked her how her older subjects react when she asks to photograph them? 

“It really depends from one person to another,” she said. “Some people are happy to do so, some are reluctant, and some won’t allow me.”

Many of her photographs represent the sensual or sexual side of older people, a topic that is not often explored in the mainstream media.

Arianne Clément.

Image: Arianne Clément.

Taking these photographs has taught her that “sexuality and sensuality doesn’t end with ageing.” 

“Some of the older folks that I photographed have a very active and fulfilling sexual life,” she revealed.

“Sexy pictures”

One of the photographs that caught my eye was of an elderly couple lying side by side in bed, laughing. I asked her about it.

“I asked these two friends of mine if they wanted to take ‘sexy pictures’. 

“First Christine was reluctant, for she was afraid of ‘what her sister would say’, but Paul was enthusiastic and so she went for it. 

“In that picture they are just the way they already were; loving, tender, playful.”

Elders under-represented in the media

One of Clément’s series consists of photographs of centenarians, people aged 100 years or older.

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Image: Arianne Clément.

Too often society fails to see the beauty in older people, she said, but she added that she thinks this is beginning to change.

“We value the beauty of youth a lot and forget about the elders most of the time,” she said. 

“Thankfully, I notice it’s starting to change a little. I see more movies featuring elders, but mostly elders are under-represented in every part of the society.”

Powerful images

Ms Clément has always been a black and white photographer. 

“It’s the way I learned photography; I look at lights, the shadows and the contrast and barely notice the colors. 

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“I admire color photographers, but I found my images to be more powerful when in black and white.”

Future works

Ms Clément is now working on a book about ‘Blue Zones’, regions of the world with high concentrations of very old people. The inhabitants of these regions share lifestyle characteristics that contribute to their exceptionally long life expectancy.

Last year, before COVID-19 caused borders to close, she travelled to five blue zones: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Southern California’s Loma Linda, in the United States. 

She completed her travels in late December 2019, and is now writing and editing the photographs and hopes to find a publisher and gallery to exhibit the works. 

Ms Clément’s photos are currently being exhibited in Australia as part of the online Head On exhibition.

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Image: Arianne Clément.

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