Photography exhibition Longevity Okinawa celebrates the beauty of old age

In a world where beauty still tends to be synonymous with youth, Singapore-based photographer Jose Jeuland’s new exhibition of portraits at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore celebrates every line and wrinkle of Okinawan locals aged 89 to 106 years old.

Longevity Okinawa exhibition
  • Cheong Kamei
  • April 2019

This isn’t the first time photographer Jose Jeuland has spent time photographing old people. His last exhibition “HAENYEO” in 2017 featured women divers of Jeju Island aged 60 to 80 years old.

Longevity Okinawa Exhibition
A total of 20 photographs are showcased in the Longevity Okinawa exhibition.

“The wrinkles of these elderly people reveal a time they have on earth,” Jeuland shares. Getting people to be part of Longevity Okinawa was no easy feat. The language barrier was definitely one of the biggest hurdles — Jeuland and his wife walked the streets of Okinawa with a poster written in Japanese letting people know they were looking for old people to photograph.

Longevity Okinawa Exhibition
On top of portrait shots, Jeuland also produced a short documentary film that will be showing at the exhibition to throw light on the lives of these elderly people in Okinawa.

Thanks to the publicity they gratuitously got from a local newspaper and a chance meeting with Mako — a local who spoke good English — they were able to get people to be part of this shoot.

Longevity Okinawa Exhibition
“I realized that the elderly people are happy with what they have, and they don’t compare themselves with others,” Jeuland observes.

Over 40 old people were photographed between 2017 and 2019, and in the final exhibition, Jeuland selected 20 pictures. “It was very difficult to make a final selection, and I wish I could exhibit everyone. However, I need to consider the harmony factor to make sure all the photographs go well together.”

The secrets of longevity

While longevity in Okinawa has been well covered by press, it’s rare that someone wants to build an entire photography exhibition around the topic. Jeuland thinks that’s why participants found the project fun and exciting. “Some of the kids of the elderly people even asked if they could use my pictures as obituary photos as it is produced in black and white, which are suitable for such ceremonies.”

Jose Jeuland in Okinawa
One of the biggest lessons Jeuland learnt in Okinawa was the importance of multi-gen relationships in a happy, long life.

These close relationships between the old people in Okinawa with their children and grandchildren left a deep impression on Jeuland. “Some of the secrets to longevity made a lot of sense to me. For example, I already knew about the positive impact of a good diet and an active lifestyle. But I never realised how important a role a mix of different generations plays in a long, happy life.”

Getting the perfect shot

For this photography exhibition, Jeuland wanted the focus to be on these old people’s faces. On his first trip in 2017, he shot using natural light and the photographs were mostly in black and white. But when he returned in 2019, he decided to shoot more colour pictures because he felt it better captured the happiness of these old people.

Jose Jeuland in Okinawa
A black backdrop was used so the focus of the shot would remain on the faces and portraits.

“I try to be close to the elderly people and have physical contact with them to make them more comfortable with me. After taking a few shots, I show them how they look through a preview on my camera screen. Once I show them, they tend to smile more. Usually they never complain, and it is a joyful moment for them.”

The Okinawa Longevity exhibition takes place from April 19 to May 30, 2019
Venue: The Fullerton Hotel Singapore – East Garden Gallery
Free admission for public