Amelia Kanan

Writer + Photographer + Producer

Category: Photography

Citizens of Seniority: Growing Old in America

www.ameliakanan.com

When venturing into the modern world with my grandmother, it’s clear to understand how she feels as if the world is pushing her out.

We hadn’t even stepped into the local Trader Joe’s before I witnessed her feelings of fear and invisibility. Shuffling through the busy sliding doors, a stranger unknowingly brushed past her and the gentle impact had set her off balance. As she grasped my arm, I felt her sway with the ebb and flow of patrons.

It dawned on us both that she should be better equipped for this grocery-foraging journey. She retrieved her confidence with a shiny, red cart and surged forward with her hands gripping the handle.

Every time she stopped for an item, she parked the cart, as if she was ready to sit and read the Encyclopedia among the frazzled shoppers.

Yet the time she took was not leisurely, in the least. It was cautionary; time well spent. Constantly on guard, she protected her ghost-like frame from a carelessly swinging basket and a grabby limb that desperately jabbed for a $1.99 bag of Organic Spinach.

Despite logically validating her struggle, my impatience groaned inside. Noticing that after 15 minutes, she had only gathered two of the five items on her list. Ignorantly,  I offered to “go ahead” and “quickly grab” the last three things she needed.

Her annoyed, but polite rejection prompted me to take note. Perhaps this was another instance that will make her feel pushed, just like the unassuming stranger’s neglectful nudge.

Finally, with her collection of five provisions, she turned toward the checkout lanes, the finish line.

However in this stretch for victory, she noticed a rogue toddler with a mini, child cart.

Her panic gave way to survival strength and she swiftly swerved the cart – the wrong way. Luckily, the nimble toddler pivoted to avoid a collision. Everyone walked away without injury, but my grandmother did make a plea for emotional distress on the car ride home.

Later that evening, she would share our grocery journey with her 95-year-old boyfriend over dinner.

Recounting emotions of fear, insult and neglect, she would make large and general accusations like, “everyone” has become too busy, too preoccupied with themselves to care about little old ladies.

I cannot argue, because I agree. I am unfortunately one of them.

So, I listen and attempt to understand. Try to recognize how the world that she gave love, and good, strong-hearted children to, is telling her to leave. Notice that no one depends on her opinions, actively seeks her wisdom or honors the struggles she’s had to endure to keep surviving in this mad, chaotic place.

Maybe, if I can uncover those challenges and feelings of elderly invisibility today, the pain of tomorrow will be less. Or, when they do begin to arrive at my doorstep in years to come, I will be able to embrace them, as they will be packaged with the memories of my grandmother.


This is a small glimpse of the inspiration behind my new photography series, titled “Citizens of Seniority: Growing Old in America.”

According to the article “The U.S. Isn’t Just Getting Older. It’s Getting More Segregated by Age.” age segregation and age-awareness are growing issues.

It is my mission to educate myself and others about senior issues, from healthcare and financial to behavioral and death. Exhibit how aging struggles unite every human being.

Visually compare the living histories that walk within today’s modern world, from those living alone on sidewalks to others who are surrounded by support. Reflect the confusion, worry and embarrassment in wise eyes. And display examples of how this demographic is too often not considered.

If you would like to learn more or know of a potential subject who would like to participate, please contact me at info@ameliakanan.com or ameliakanan.com with the subject “Senior citizen series.”

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Speed Limits

Recently, a friend told me an interesting fact about driving. The gist of it is: humans aren’t biologically comfortable traveling at speeds over 30 mph. Although airplanes fly at a much faster speed than cars, we don’t see clouds speed past us as we do trees or buildings while driving. Thus, frequent and fast-paced driving can induce physical and mental stress.

Just thinking about my weekday commute makes my heart race. If I leave before 7 am and take the quickest route (the 10E to the 110S to the 91E), I can get to my office in 28 minutes flat. But that means I’m at work at 7:28 am flat. Yet, when I wait until 7:01 am or any later and take the same freeways, I have to deal with brake-gas-brake driving for 45 to 60 minutes.

Like any love-hate relationship, I have a lot of respect for driving and the rules of the road. I’m not a perfect driver, but I am a passionate driver. Meaning that I apologize when I accidentally cut someone off (even if they had been driving super slow in the LEFT LANE and only sped up the second they saw my turn signal go on). Also, I’m passionately dedicated to educating my fellow road companions via a polite horn beep, an informative hand signal and sometimes, if they’re lucky, a window-to-window pep talk about being mindful and present in their lane of traffic.

Look, I am a very patient and calm person when it comes to most things. After years of working with all kinds of personalities, I’ve mastered the art of not taking things personally and truly letting things roll off my back. I have a strong aversion to grudges and passive-aggression. And, I believe that remaining authentically kind, especially when my face wants to explode with frustration, is always the most beneficial and logical choice.

But I draw the line at bad drivers.

Drivers who don’t look before they change lanes or use their turn signals. Drivers who tail you even when there’s a mile-long traffic jam. Drivers who cruise at dangerously s-l-o-w speeds…in the carpool lane. Drivers who go 10 miles SLOWER than the flow of traffic and are TEXTING while driving on a MAJOR freeway. By the way, are traffic police ticketing frightfully slow af drivers because, frankly, roads are most endangered by fear-driven motorists who are clearly not confident enough to safely operate their vehicles?!

I digress.

Sharing a city with more than 4 million people can unfortunately make strangers feel like obstacles, rather than other humans who are also stressed out because they, too, are driving at biologically unnatural speeds.

In an effort to lay off the innocent drivers who don’t deserve the shade I throw, I’m learning how to slow my roll with a scenic commute. Calmly coasting past trees, shops, schools, churches and people at a speed that feels innately comfortable. Yielding to bicyclists, eager students and hurried pedestrians. A new commute that now makes me, unbelievably, wish that I get stopped at a long, red light.

Nothing Special

Tree (1 of 1)-2

That would be the title of my book. “Nothing Special.”

Inside would be a random collection of colorful images that I’ve lovingly captured and categorized as exactly that. A young girl waiting for a bus alone, a home cooked meal that isn’t stylistically plated or professionally lit, an oversized tree on a small lot and tress. There were would be lots of trees.

At 15 years old, I took my first photography class at 15 years old and never thought, or even hoped, that it would become my career. Photography was like that childhood best friend who you could always count on for candid connections, edgy mischief, and unfiltered self-discovery. The one with whom you’re secretly in love, yet maybe too shy to do anything about it.

Just like the first whiff of darkroom chemicals, it wasn’t love at first sight. At any rate, sparks of true kinship were there. I felt it, venturing into neglected areas hoping to catch something new and feeling protected despite being alone. Or in the nervous excitement that came through the lens, as I pulled focus on something small and unseen.

And that was just the beginning! There was pulsing anticipation, loading a spiral in the pitch dark. Then thrill, once the film dried and displayed crisp, well-balanced frames. Soon thereafter, calming comfort in the chill darkroom, calculating exposure and developing an enlargement. And finally, the best spark of all – the final print. With each one, I could feel my heart expand, knowing that such a long, arduous and triumphant journey would forever be safely preserved.

When you’re young, experiences or relationships such as this can often get whitewashed and taken for granted. You may also be a little unaware that although something has taken root, doesn’t mean you can stop watering it.

Time and time again, my contact sheets were full of nothing special. In the beginning, that was okay. But, after awhile I discovered some troublesome themes. An abandoned home with broken windows and graffiti. A crying baby and a distressed mother. Shattered glass in a bed of roses. A lone stranger, deep in thought. Gravestones at night, lit with my flashlight.

The dry roots were ejecting my buried vulnerabilities from the dark, bursting aberrations into my viewfinder.

Being the novice that I was, troubleshooting was out of the question as was asking for help. Instead, I turned a cold corner and retreated from the negative space.

After 3 years, the time had come to break up. I masked my special love, along with my tender inner truths and said goodbye to my high school sweetheart. Clearly, I thought, the relationship was dead and it had nothing to do with me.

It was time to discover something new, something more mature, something special.

Mysteriously and problematically, photography wouldn’t let me go. Like that ex-love that always comes back, it seemed to always find a way to thread itself into every pursuit I embarked on. College, jobs, gigs and projects – it found a way to reconnect with me no matter where I went.

Begrudgingly, I took it by the hand and worked with it. Capturing all kinds of scenes, faces, events, new businesses, causes, families and even a few celebrities.

Before I knew it, I found myself depending on it financially. But, more incredibly, we had discovered a new kind of nothing special. One that was full of brightness, alive with vibrancy and composed with clarity.

My settings had adjusted and my aspect ratio was corrected.

My “nothing special” hasn’t only been a career-saving grace, it has been my insightful guide, partner in crime and better half.

Photography overexposed my truths – over and over again – until I acknowledged and embraced them. It gently nudged me to work on underdeveloped traits, such as patience, direction, focus and being quiet. It provided me with filtering and diffusing techniques and helped me widen my view. And made me understand the real value of background and memory.

What’s more, it instructed me to listen, look at the same thing from different angles, remove myself from the picture and remain still in the midst of a chaotic scene.

And, the most transcendent of all, photography taught me that old, sturdy roots are not necessarily restricting or prone to decay. They can push you to stretch and sway freely in the wind, but ensure you’re secure so you don’t get lost in a strong gust. It can be your daily source of great escape.

Photography was the prime picture I needed to trust and release fear so that I could expose myself to better, ambient light. It was the proof I needed to understand that if you allow nothing special to develop at its own speed, it could become your most valuable life treasure.

“I love everything that’s old, – old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine.”

Ameliakanan.com (30 of 31)

Stephanie and I were best friends before we even met in person. Two months before we moved into our college dorm, we talked on the phone almost every day and told each other everything.

Steph wanted to experience as much as she could. She wanted to travel, share awkward moments with strangers, write about the things that impacted her, capture life and create the most epic catalog of memories.

As for me, I just wanted to find a husband. Feeling like I had already done everything on her list, my naiveté led me to believe that my next chapter was supposed to involve a minivan, the PTA and a husband who had sex with me in the garage after our kids’ soccer games.

Looking back, it’s funny to see how obvious it was that both of us desired lives that weren’t necessarily true to our natures. For instance, all I wanted was to be a homemaker, yet my nomadic spirit kept me from sleeping in my own bed most nights of the week. And as determined as Steph was to be spontaneous and free, she was quick to nest and root down in our neighborhood.

Gradually and unknowingly, we learned each other’s tricks. Stephanie shared her important tools of dependability and commitment and I exhibited survival skills for living life spontaneously.

For better and for worse, our friendship had no boundaries. We served up reality checks and called out flaws. Yet even with the harshest of fights, our intentions were never to hurt, but to inspire growth within the other. We didn’t just help each other identify the flaws, but examine them. Was it a scar or a wound? A fear? Or was it just a character trait that hadn’t been built yet? She wanted me to embrace the reality of roots, rather than run from it. I wanted her to learn that goodbyes didn’t always mean that you had to lose something, but maybe gain something better or more evolved.

We didn’t just live together, we developed who we were together. We learned our strengths, weaknesses, dislikes and needs vs. wants. She helped me find pride in my independent life and I helped her see how much of nurturer she truly was. Most importantly, we learned that life was not a stark contrast of black and white, but instead the most beautiful array of gray.

16 years later, 1,000 miles apart, we still talk almost every day and tell each other everything. Although I still tease Steph about living in the same neighborhood and frequenting the same businesses, I am in awe of how she has managed to achieve all of the goals from her 18-year-old list and then some. She has not stopped traveling, sharing awkward moments with strangers, writing about the things that impact her, capturing  life and creating the most epic catalog of memories now with her husband Ryan and their son, Ro – both of whom I adore more than words can begin to describe, but that’s a whole other blog.

Stephanie, Ryan and Ro thank you for teaching me that new chapters can begin without having to say goodbye. Here are a few snapshots for that epic catalog.

Not pictured: the nightly strolls, Ryan’s professional driving skills, Nicholi’s story about catching on fire, the woman at Faros Beach, yogurt breakfasts and singing “Be My Baby” a capella – over and over again.

 

Input Mode: Sweden & Croatia

Recently, I took a trip to Sweden and Croatia. The intention was to get away from my life distractions to really focus on my personal creative pursuits. However, I should’ve known better than to take a leisure trip with the intention to work.

I quickly found myself displeased with every photo I took and every word that I wrote. But instead of feeling frustrated, I reminded myself that there is no such thing as a creative block. As artists, we have two modes: input and output.

Embracing my input mode, my soul slipped away from the tight grip in which it is usually held. I spent full days outside, basked in history, wandered with homeless dogs who oddly wore sweaters, climbed countless stone stairs, found a King’s tomb who had been buried with his mistress and wife laying on top of him, ate carbs without a care, scaled a cliff during a windstorm (totally by accident), drank delicious wines and laughed with strangers.

I also continued to photograph and write because that’s just what I do. Every single day. Whether I like it or not.