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Remarkable photos show ‘natural beauty’ of the elderly in the great outdoors

June 22, 2020

Since 2011, Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth have photographed retired farmers, fishermen, zoologists, plumbers, and opera singers in natural habitats around the world for an ongoing project and book series called Eyes As Big as Plates, the BBC reports.

Some of these pictures look like anthropological portraits from antique issues of National Geographic: statuesque figures in remote landscapes, wearing costumes of seashells or palm leaves. Others, the news outlet notes, “have the feel of delirious outdoor fashion shoots, where the stylist has gone wild with natural props such as moss and rubicund fronds of rhubarb (fleece jacket and sensible shoes are model’s own).

In one image, photographed in northern England on a soggy spring day, it takes you a while to see the person at all: She is camouflaged as a clump of bracken on the side of a moor.

And they all not only show the wonder of natural life—but inspire us to wonder about their origins. Why is that older-looking man lying in a rock

Above, Eyes as Big As Plates/# Bengt II/orway 2011. (Photo source: Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen)

pool in Greenland, swaddled in chunks of ice like he’s just emerged from the frozen deep? Or what about the close-up of an elderly woman in a woven headdress set against a wintry-looking sky?

It is part of the project’s concept that you can supply as many answers as you feel you need, Ikonen explains to the BBC during a video call. (Originally Finnish, these days she lives on the Rockaway Peninsula, just outside New York; Hjorth, who is Norwegian, joins the call from her own home outside Oslo).

“In the beginning we were trying to illustrate certain phenomena – folklore, stories, figures from myth,” she recalls. “More recently, we dropped that.”

Hjorth is nodding: “We just try to work with whatever the people we interview bring, wherever they are.” Perhaps some mysteries are better left unsolved.

The title ‘Eyes as Big as Plates’ is undeniably a tribute to Norwegian folklore. It references a story about a large-eyed dog (or possibly a troll) who lives beneath a bridge; the kind of curious, slightly spooky gaze the artists aim to emulate.

The project began as Ikonen’s idea: she’d long been intrigued by Nordic mythology, and nine years ago hit upon the idea of creating a new body of work paying tribute to it. Searching for a collaborator, she came across Hjorth’s photographs – specifically portraits Hjorth had done of Norwegian grandmothers.

Ikonen got in touch, and the two began to plan a new series focusing on older people, reimagining them as powerful figures from lore and legend.

Their photography collection has become a touring exhibition that has travelled to museums in many countries, not just in Scandinavia but far beyond—Bogota, Leeds, New York,  and Rome— and then, in 2017, a book (which is now sold out).

Research contact: @BBCNews