Hudson, New Hampshire-based photographer Jason Paige Smith, had always heard Maine being called the “oldest state” due to it consistently holding the largest population of people over 65 in the US. But unlike in many other states, these older Maine residents are still leading active (and happy) lives working day-to-day as lobstermen, grave diggers, and even loggers.
Jason’s Oldest State project began as a result of him hearing the term “oldest state” negatively tossed around. Jason felt that many of the most inspiring people he had met while living in Maine were part of the older generation, and he wanted to explore this theme. The project would become a way to change that negative association and shed light on the incredible stories of older Mainers.
The first subject for the Oldest State would be Andy Gove — a local lobsterman in Stonington, Maine. Little did he know that this would be the start of a passion project that people would be really fascinated by and excited to get involved with.
My assistant and I captured images on his docks and had a great time visiting with him. He even took us out on his lobster boat, which had won him several trophies over the years in the annual lobster boat races.
Upon sharing Andy’s photograph online and on social media, he started getting comments from people all over the state suggesting friends and family members who they thought would be a good fit for the project.
It was a great shoot, and I was happy with the images we got that day, but once I shared them and the concept for the project online, it started to take on a life of its own.
Jason also photographed Everard Hall, who had been digging graves by hand for more than 50 years. During the shoot, he had a news crew with him doing a story on the Oldest State project. While Jason was getting set up, the crew shot some “b roll” of Everard digging. The addition of a news crew, must have confused Everard, as he thought they were finished and drove away before Jason could get a photo.
Even though I had started putting up lights and modifiers that were for the shoot, he thought we were all set, and drove away, leaving us standing in the middle of the graveyard with a news crew and no subject to photograph.
I had to quickly hop in my truck and go chase him down to let him know we hadn’t actually started the shoot — he didn’t have a cell phone to call.
After photographing several other subjects for his Oldest State project, Jason caught the eye of the editors at Maine Seniors, and was hired to do some work for the magazine. The magazine had recently been purchased by Reade Brower, the owner of six of Maine’s seven daily newspapers. When Reade came across Jason’s work they knew his photography would elevate their editorial content and help take the magazine in a fresh new direction.
I’d been doing so much work with the older population in the state it was a natural fit. I’ve worked with them on shooting cover stories, and in a few cases, I’ve relicensed images I had already shot, getting to see those stories come to life in a new form. It’s been a great collaboration of ideas and assignments.
Working with Maine Seniors also gave him access to people he would not have otherwise met.
As a result of this collaboration [with the magazine], I was able to photograph Noel Paul Stookey (of the folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary). Once I left the shoot, I even got a call back from him asking if he could license one of my images for his upcoming album!
Each person he’s met along the way has a unique story, and through his imagery, Jason manages offer a quick glimpse at the life they’ve lived. The resulting images are a stunning portrayal of the person’s essence and capture their unique personalities.
It’s been a really important project for me —not just as a photographer, but as a person. It was great to meet people from all these different walks of life, share their stories and learn along the way. This is a project I’d love to continue shooting.
Since the project is so focused on inspiring individuals, It is an understatement to say that Jason’s experiences while capturing images for his Oldest State project (and for the magazine) have been memorable.
I had the opportunity to photograph Frank Perham, who had spent most of his life collecting minerals. He has an entire museum constructed in his basement with his finds from the years on display. People travel to his home, just to see his collections and he even has pieces on display at The Smithsonian. One of my sons, who was 13 at the time, has always had an interest in geology. So, I decided he could be my assistant that day.
As I set up, Frank, ever gracious, gave my son his own personal tour of the museum, showing him different collections, and answering his many questions. A few days after the shoot, I got a call from Frank asking for my address, and later, a box arrived at my house addressed to my son. Frank had sent a beautiful piece of quartz with a thoughtful, hand-written note.
I learned invaluable lessons from each of the subjects I photographed. That is one of the reasons I think projects like this are important. There are so many great stories out there to be told. I really enjoyed the connections that were made along the way and the many stories I was lucky enough to hear firsthand.
To look at more images from this project, see Jason’s self published book, The Oldest State.
See more of Jason’s work at JasonPaigeSmith.com
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