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March 27, 2014

Aging Across America: Exhibit chronicling Americans’ stories stops at ISU

TERRE HAUTE — Twenty framed photographs had stories to tell of aging in America.

These photographs, carefully hung inside the Hulman Memorial Student Union Art Gallery at Indiana State University on Thursday night for an exhibit, “Aging Across America,” that has been on display at the gallery throughout March.

But on this night, the artist, Dr. Jeffrey Levine, shared stories from his travels, his photographic subjects and his goal of presenting what he believes is an accurate view of old age.

“I wanted to make a visual encyclopedia of old age,” Levine told the Tribune-Star.

The traveling photography exhibition portrays images of adults 60 and older and “explores aging from the perspective of a medical doctor who specializes in geriatrics,” the event’s program stated.

A board-certified internist and geriatrician, Levine began taking pictures of older people during a fellowship in the 1980s. He is now an attending physician at Beth Israel Medical Center-Petrie Division in New York City.

“The goal for me is to get people to think about aging in a different way,” said organizer Tina Kruger of ISU’s Department of Applied Health Sciences.

Thursday was the exhibit’s last night at ISU. In February, it was also on display in the Vigo County Public Library.

During his presentation, “Art, Medicine, and Geriatrics: A Personal Journey,” Levine discussed the intersection of art and medicine, shared some personal stories about the photographs and talked about the work of four artist-physicians in history: Andrea Vesalius, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, William Carlos Williams and Frank H. Netter.

Levine said although medicine and photography are different disciplines, he seeks to combine them to transform perceptions of aging.

He quoted William Carlos Williams: “When they ask me, as of late they frequently do, how I have for so many years continued an equal interest in medicine and the poem, I reply that they amount for me to nearly the same thing.”

During the course of his presentation, Levine shared stories behind some of the photographs in the exhibit. A woman with dementia looked, ironically, in a photograph, like she was in contemplation. There was a man in Florida who demonstrated his fire-eating skills to him, a moment captured in the photograph called “Geriatric Fire Eating Dwarf.”

While there were elderly people in wheelchairs, there were also pictures of those who run marathons or attend the senior rodeo.

The aging population is a diverse group of people, Levine said. Some are healthy, some are not.

“The challenge is to present everything,” Levine said, and sometimes, “you have to put disability next to health.”

In his work, he also aims to confront negative images of aging such as seen in hip replacement commercials that, he said, are not representative of the group.

His photographs show many positive aspects of aging. Many older people are “engaged in the community, interacting with the world and living full lives,” Levine said.

He wants to present what “I believe is a sympathetic and accurate view of old age” and he wanted his audience to “be aware of where we’re all going.”

“It’s a wakeup call that we need to construct an aging, friendly society.”

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com

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