A writer in my Monday memoir class named Hugh wrote an essay about a very cool photography exhibit his wife Bobbe Wolf put together. Fifty Couples Over Fifty is a series of pictures she took of couples she knew decades ago. An updated version is on exhibit again now — I’ll let Hugh explain the rest:
by Hugh Brodke
Twenty-five years ago Bobbe put together a photo series entitled Fifty Couples Over Fifty. It started out as just a group of photos of our friends and gradually took shape as a well-structured project recording many people who were part of our lives. Some of the couples were long-time friends and some were new. Some of the couples had been together many years and others were fairly recent.
A significant feature of the project was that Bobbe also interviewed and recorded the couple, asking them a variety of questions about their relationship and their hopes and expectations for the future. While I wasn’t present for the sittings or the interviews (I would clearly have been a distraction) Bobbe and I listened to the recordings together and picked out a short quote that could be printed on the mat for each picture. Bobbe and I were not yet married then, and we joked that the comments of these couples could be our pre-marital counseling for how to have a successful partnership.
Each photo is 15X15 inches and has a wide white mat so it ends up 20X24 with a uniform simple silver-colored frame. The pictures were first exhibited at The Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College in Chicago and some were shown at The Blank Museum of Art in Michigan City and The Highland Park Museum of Art. The exhibits received a lot of favorable reviews and publicity but then the pictures went into storage…for a long time.
Recently, we were visiting a friend at The Admiral senior residence in Chicago and noticed a long corridor with an art exhibit. Our friend encouraged Bobbe to talk with their Art Committee about rehanging “Fifty Couples.” They liked the concept and the work and the couples came out of storage. Thirty of the fifty couples went up on the walls.
There was a grand opening night with champagne and many people attending, including many of the couples who had posed 25 years before! “Over 50” plus 25 meant that the youngest in the photos was now 75.
What had happened to our friends over the ensuing 25 years? Some appeared just as enthusiastic, just as vital as when they first posed. Some were slowed down by age or illness. Canes and walkers had been added. Several pictures showed a spouse who had since died. In a few cases, both of the smiling, optimistic subjects had died. But Bobbe photographed several of the attending subjects looking at their own old picture. And the response of the crowd to the pictures was just as enthusiastic as it had been 25 years before.
The pictures now are on display at a senior residence in suburban Evanston where there is room for 47 of the original 50 pictures. And now, several of the old pictures have contemporary pictures hanging below. What you see in these is the subjects looking at the older pictures of their younger selves.
Photography is sometimes thought of as just a cold snapshot of how something looked at a particular time at a particular place. But Bobbe’s pictures show how people felt — about themselves and about their relationship with their partners. Bobbe had caught something in the interaction of each couple — laughing or serious — that resonated true and still resonates as true. That’s the difference between a picture-taker and a photographic artist.
Bobbe Wolf’s Fifty Couples Over Fifty exhibition can be viewed at Three Crowns Senior Residence, 2323 McDaniel, Evanston, Illinois (ask the folks at the reception desk for directions to the photograph gallery in the corridor). The exhibition will be coming down Monday, February 27th around 2 p.m., and Bobbe Wolf asks that if anyone knows of a gallery interested in this exhibit or more of her work, to please contact her via her web site.