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FEATURED AUSTRALIA: Photographer Katie Hooper learns about older Australians in the Visible Me project

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#AceNewsDesk – Gold Coast photographer Katie Hooper was nervous when she sat down to interview 100-year-old Maureen Riley.

A black and white photo of a man which white hair and a white beard, wrinkled forehead looking forward at camera
Joe Feeney, 88, told photographer Katie Hooper the heartbreaking story of his upbringing. (Supplied: Katie Hooper)none

I’ve never spoken to a person with dementia before,” Ms Hooper said.

A woman in a pale purprle top with fair eyes and dark grey hair, hands clasped in front of her looking upwards
Ms Hooper says Maureen Riley’s story will stay with her forever.(Supplied: Katie Hooper)none

The Byron Bay senior was Australia’s and England’s first female jockey and horse trainer.

She now lives in a care home.

“She’s had an incredible life,” Ms Hooper said.

“But when I talked to her, all she wanted to talk to me about was her connection with animals, her horses and dogs.”

Ms Hooper, who has interviewed and photographed dozens of senior Australians, said Ms Riley’s response was part of a theme.

“It was the connections that stuck with people — it wasn’t the extraordinary things that they had done or owned. It was the people,” she said.

Ms Riley’s was one of more than 30 stories collected by Katie and her team as part of her Visible Me project, which shone a light into the lives of elderly people.

‘I feared ageing’

The idea was sparked during COVID lockdowns, a time during which Ms Hooper said many people were emotionally impacted.

“I thought, ‘if I’m feeling this way, how are our seniors feeling’?” she said

“They’re the people who’ve given us everything and are locked away from everyone and everything they’ve worked so hard for.

“I wanted to give them back their sense of value, their sense of self-esteem and their sense of beauty.”

She, in partnership with aged and disability support service Feros Care, put a call out to speak with seniors across south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales.

The response, she said, was overwhelming.

Her crew photographed and spoke with 30 older Australians, the oldest being 101.Margaret McAtasney opened up about finding out she was adopted.(Supplied: Katie Hooper)none

“What I learned was so much incredible wisdom and resilience, which we can all benefit from no matter our age or experiences in life,” Ms Hooper said.

“And these people are so joyful, and they still have hopes and dreams.

“One 90-year-old man still wants to father a child, Betty still wants to paraglide off a cliff at 90.”

Ordinary lives, extraordinary moments

Countless stories, once buried, surfaced, including 88-year-old Joe Feeney’s.

After spending much of his childhood in an orphanage, recalling emotional and physical abuse, Mr Feeney went on to become a Santa at a Gold Coast shopping centre.

He said he wanted to give kids the joy of which he was robbed.

“I think these short stories are so powerful — [even] from the woman who had her child kidnapped from under her, but then managed to get him back,” Ms Hooper said.

“What these people have lived through in their otherwise very ordinary lives are these extraordinary moments that have absolutely defined the people that they are today.”Nina Marzi told Ms Hooper she was enjoying her life.(Supplied: Katie Hooper)none

Nina Marzi, 100, brought Ms Hooper to tears.

“I realised that she is more vital at 100 than I was at my 39 or had been in my entire life,” Ms Hooper said.

She said she asked Ms Marzi why she dyed her hair.

“She’s Russian and said ‘This is me. Why should I go grey’?”

“I just fell in love with her instantly.”

Shooting the breeze

The product wasn’t just photos and stories, but an overhaul of Ms Hooper’s view of the elderly.

“I have to confess, I probably feared ageing beforehand,” she said.

“But after meeting these people who, overall, were incredibly vibrant and happy and content, I thought actually I’m looking forward to growing older, I don’t need to fear it.Terry Carter shared his story with Ms Hooper.(Supplied: Katie Hooper)none

“We can be incredible right up until we’re 100 and beyond.”

Ms Hooper said she would soon head off on a trip across Australia to interview more people and focus on disadvantaged and regional communities.

“I had such a profound personal and outward impact from interviewing the seniors, that I want to do all sorts of people who in society we overlook … all the people who we don’t tend to give our time of day to,” she said.

“Our stories deserve to be told, no matter how short a part of our lives they were.”


#AceNewsDesk report ………..Published: Oct.02: 2022:

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