One hundred intimate portraits of east Londoners – aged between one and 100 – celebrate the extraordinary lives of ordinary people
Hundreds of photographs. Four years of work. Three separate lockdowns. All for one, single, spirit-lifting, hope-giving celebration of life in all its fullness.
Kindness, joy, friendship, hurt, resilience, loss: Hackney-based photographer Jenny Lewis met with the full gamut of human emotions and life experiences during her latest project.
The initial idea was simple: to photograph one hundred individuals aged one to a hundred. Apart from their age, the only other stipulation was that they lived in the same east London borough as her.
Her approach owed more to serendipity than science. A handful of her subjects she met through friends. A few were sent her way (the mayor of Hackney helped with a call-out on Twitter). But most Lewis just bumped into while out and about.
As she notes: “It’s incredible how generous people are with their time and their stories. I’d come back from shoots feeling I’d had a shot of adrenaline.”
Her colourful cast is partly testimony to Hackney’s intrinsic diversity: every race, colour, gender and, of course, age, is on show. But it’s also a reflection of her artistic eye, which, as the photographs testify, draws out the odd from the ordinary.
‘Ordinary’, of course, is a misnomer. One of the project’s takeaway reminders is that people come in all shapes and sizes. There is no ‘typical’ Hackney resident. Everyone is wondrously, welcomingly, wantonly different, Lewis notes.
Our life journeys are also anything but “linear”, she says: “We don’t just keep turning the page, getting slightly older and wiser and moving towards the end point. It’s, well, quite tumultuous. There is no: ‘do it this way and that will happen’. Life is different for everyone.”
The brief biographies that accompany each image (click on the gallery below to read them) prove Lewis to be a gifted listener as well as photographer. Done with care, photography is an intimate art. People open up, she says. They share. The pensioner who took up skydiving; the 30-something mother who was diagnosed with bowel cancer while pregnant; the centenarian former gangster’s moll.
It is easy to “sort of forget” how remarkable people are, Lewis observes ruefully: “They are all just my neighbours – it shows you don’t need to look very far to be inspired by people.”
For the next five years, prints of the one hundred separate images will be exhibited on the wall of the three-storey high atrium of The Britannia Leisure Centre in Hackney’s Shoreditch Park. As Lewis notes: “Everyone is there.”
One Hundred Years: Portraits of a community aged 0–100 is published by Hoxton Mini Press
Photography by Jenny Lewis