“It’s freezing in here!” the Little Old Lady says as she shuffles into the 75 degree room. “Can you turn up the heat?”
“You won’t be here that long.” I say.
“What did he say?” Her husband of fifty some odd years says in a loud voice.
They are both stooped and frail and look as if a good breeze would knock them over. As I get them positioned on the posing stools there is always the fear that one of these old people will fall off and shatter into a million pieces. I know this because every single one of them complains in a loud voice that they are afraid they are going to fall. They move slowly and deliberately. They will hate their portraits because they will be pictures of Old People-bangs under their eyes, wrinkled, dark spots cover their skin, their hair is thin or gone altogether-They do not look like that!
Not all old people have one foot in the grave, but a lot of them do. These blind, deaf, and dumb people drive to have their portraits taken. I am always thankful that these people come early in the day and that I don’t have to be on the road the same time they are. They often drive cars left over for the 1970s that can hold fifty people comfortably. These old people are down right scary-and there are more and more of them everyday. The worst part-most of them don’t like to buy portraits.
I’ve about decided that I will find a tall bridge when I turn 60 and do a perfect swan dive into the pavement. Seeing these people everyday drives home the fact that we will all come to this end. Even the strong and the perfect will eventually hit an age that beats them back and brings them to their death.
Men often die before women-even in these more enlightened times. It is not uncommon to have a Little Old Lady show up for her portrait and tell me that this is her first portrait alone. Once in a while the single woman is not a widow, her husband has merely lost his mind and run off with another woman. Sometimes we have the Tony Randalls show up with a wife a third his age and a baby in tow. It’s pretty common for an Old Man to show up with an Oriental or a Russian wife-the Mail Order Bride business is still going strong.
The more down and out older person is a sad sight-they haven’t bought new clothes in years-and they often have a hard time washing the old clothes. Many old men have bladder control issues and walk in the assembly line portrait studio to have their portraits taken with wet spots on their trousers. These people are not very interested in personal hygiene and walk around in a small cloud like Pigpin from Peanuts. We get these old timers in and out as quickly as can
Then there are the Other Old People-the ones living in Retirement Communities wearing always new clothes and talking about their golf and tennis game. They have perfect hair and teeth and have had a bit of work done here and there over the years. They sing in The Choir and spend two hundred dollars an hour on voice lessons. They go on cruises, where they bought all the portraits they will ever need, and they are dripping in gold and jewels. They appear to be vibrant and healthy-the result of making the correct choices in life. Choices I have never made-so I will never be among their tanned and superior ranks.
One thing that all old people have in common, is that they have reached a point where they Demand everything be done Their Way. No more taking orders and getting on with it. It’s their way or the highway. A shocking number of old people become pure bullies and join the ranks of those that say whatever they want to say whenever they want to say it. What are they gonna do, fire me?
Some Older Folks don’t mind spending money on Portraits. Some walk in, barely look at the photos, and rattle off a list of kids, grand kids, and great grand kids that want portraits-and they spend a butt load of money. Of course, they may never buy another portrait, but for that one day-they make our day.
Portrait styles are designed to flatter the subject and make them look their best-Old People have passed their prime and hold in their mind an image that is not longer valid. I’ve seen little old ladies burst into tears when they see a portrait of themselves. People sometimes want to recreate an old photo-but the image seldom lives up to the subjects hopes.
A standard fine art style is to skim light across an older person’s face and bring out all the lines. It is them processes in black and white to make the lines look like the Grand Canyon. The old people in these fine art prints often look sad or angry. This is not a style that real old people want. They all want the Oprah Lenses and the Glamour Shot that makes them look young and thin and nothing like they do in the real world.
Which is why The ReTouch is the most popular item for the Waiting for God crowd.