Betty Friedan once stated, “Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity. and strength”, and the people of Maine know this attitude better than most. The Pine Tree State, per capita, is the oldest in the United States, and with that aging population comes a wide range of unique trends, stories, and issues.
A few years back, Brewer, Maine-based Social Documentary photographer Jason Paige Smith started a personal project on aging in Maine called The Oldest State, which began as a series of portraits and then progressed into a self-published book. Through one of his first personal projects, Lenard Kaye, director of the Center on Aging at UMaine, learned of his work and reached out to him to collaborate on an ongoing project with the University of Maine’s Center on Aging.
The general concept behind the project is to tell the stories of older individuals visually through portraits, short interviews, and through the lens of each individual to show how their personal stories align with a national trend in aging. And in doing so, has become a prominent advocate and promoter against ageism.
Our aim is to provide a resource for our readers that will be relatable in some ways and also help educate them on age-related issues and trends at both the state and national level.
Jason has continually relished telling individuals’ stories through portraits, especially environmental portraits. Considering it a profound privilege to be invited into someone else’s world for a while to learn who they are and what they do. Consequently, he also thrives in the process of finding the best manner to visually narrate the story of his subject.
This is the kind of work I’m drawn to in my personal projects, and I’ve been very fortunate to get commercial and editorial work as a result of the work I’ve done on personal projects.
This project is a continual collaboration between Jason and two writers on the project, Rick Mundy and Lenard Kaye. They have all collaborated on which topics to include and what people out there have stories that help best illustrate the larger trends they’re hoping to demonstrate and the most suitable way to relate these stories to the public.
The input, collaboration, and insight from my colleagues on this project have been invaluable.
The intent of the Maine photographer’s images is to bring the viewers into the world of these incredible people for a moment or two. Jason aspires to start positive conversations about aging and display how numerous people in Maine are doing impactful work well into their later years of life.
Our hope is that the stories and the pictures in this project will not only help inspire and teach others but also show aging in a new light in a way that empowers and helps others understand the importance of aging well.
Maine is an extremely special place for Jason, having lived there for almost 15 years and traveling all over the state for this project.
There are certainly some locations of the state that are more remote than others, and the conditions vary quite a bit depending on the time of year or location. It can be a beautiful summer day or -14 below, and the shoot is on a frozen lake. That variety and the changes in locations and landscapes make working on location here both challenging and rewarding.
Most of the challenges with this project on a creative level for Jason are trying to put together each shoot with the entire project in mind.
We don’t yet know all the names and people who will be involved in this. As a result, I don’t have a clear plan in my head of how each image will look, so I’m trying as I go along to make sure I’m creating images that work together but don’t look too similar to one another.
Jason always endeavors to keep the energy on his shoots relaxed. In the case of many of these, he was either on his own or with his long-time assistant, Larry Ayotte, empowering an intimate and organized shooting environment.
It’s always a bit of a production to come into someone’s world with lighting gear to make a portrait. Still, we always try to make it a great experience for everyone, learn as much as we can about each individual’s story, and hopefully come away with a new-found appreciation for another life well lived.
Yet he never knows where he will meet the next person he wants to photograph for a project. In the case of Pee Wee, Jason met him when he was looking for someone to do some work on a chainsaw he owns, and it turned out to be one of Jason’s many treasured encounters during the whole project.
It was just one of those moments in Maine where you ask a person you know where to get work done on a chainsaw, and then when you head out to his place, you realize it’s a great fit for your current project.
What started as a personal project has taken on new meaning for Jason, and he’s grown his ability to tell the subject’s story with each shoot that comes his way.
I hope I’m learning at least something from each shoot I do. With this project in particular, it’s not just the scope of the project that’s been rewarding. But the collaborative nature of working with a great team has been really fun.
Above all, it’s the inspirational people tales, and unique lives of the people featured that keep Jason captivated by the project. Inspirational accounts from the world’s oldest person still working on her lobster boat at the age of 103, to one the first people to surf the coast of Maine, even to a woman in her mid-’80s who still donates significant time and energy to help combat food insecurity in the state. Each anecdote weaves a beloved detail that makes up the rich tapestry of life.
I really enjoyed working with everyone photographed so far for this project. Each person was either recommended by someone we know well or researched and contacted based on their story, so when the day of the shoot comes, and I finally get to meet each person, it’s exciting. I always leave shoots like these, feeling energized by the experience and the conversations I have with each person during the shoot and inspired to do more with the time I have in my life.
See more of Jason’s work on his website.
Retouching: Jeff Whitlock
Assistant: Larry Ayotte
Read more about Jason on our Published blog.
Let us help you Find Photographers, source Stock Photography,
Produce Your Shoot — or just reach out to hear more!