|Robert Fass's portraits of Roger and Althea Milton of Auburn (left), married in 1932, and Fulton and Erma Weed of Deer Isle (below), married in 1937, are among the images that will be on display at the Creative Photographic Arts Center in Lewiston.|
Sometimes, as he photographs and interviews long-married couples, Robert Fass feels like a kid with his nose pressed to the glass, observing an endangered species from the outside of a display window.
"There certainly are lessons to be learned by getting to know these folks," says Fass of his subjects. "They come from a time when social conventions were completely different. It's interesting to look at them against the background of how things have changed."
Fass's photographs of long-married couples in America will be on exhibit at the Creative Photographic Arts Center in Lewiston from Saturday to Aug. 30. Titled "As Long As We Both Shall Live," this photographic essay is a collection of black-and-white photographs drawn from more than 20 sessions with couples all over the United States who have been married at least 40 years. The exhibit features couples from York, Auburn, Deer Isle and Stonington among its subjects.
J. Michael Patry, the executive director of the Creative Photographic Arts Center, which is the largest photo gallery in New England, says he gave Fass the opportunity to exhibit his work the day he first met him because his photographs reminded him of the work of Dorothea Lange, who is renowned for her photos of migrant workers.
"He captures wonderful moments that if you blinked, you'd miss them," says Patry. "His photographs lend dignity and respect to his subjects. He does not trivialize."
Fass's project grew out of a photo session he held with his parents on the occasion of their 47th anniversary. He had been urging them to sit for a photo session for a while, he says. He finally persuaded them in 1997 during a nostalgic vacation back to a spot in West Virginia where the family used to vacation when Fass was a child.
Fass's father died a few months later. When Fass placed a few of the photographs from the session at the memorial service, people responded so positively that he decided to photograph other couples who had been married at least 40 years and make a book out of the results.
Fass met his first Maine couple, Roger and Althea Milton of Auburn, while he was performing in a Lewiston Public Theater production in January 2000. The Miltons were referred to Fass by an administrator at the Schooner Estates Retirement Community where they live.
"Roger's kind of a Walt Whitman with his beautiful observations about things," Fass says. "Their photograph shows that certain stoic quality of Mainers."
Fass tries to photograph his subjects in both formal portrait settings and in environments that have meaning for them and also convey meaning for the observer. Thus, some of his black-and-white photographs include the trappings of a long life together, while others are set in places that evoke memories of younger days.
Rose and Andy Gove of Stonington, for example, are photographed beside a set of lobster traps down by the waterfront where their house overlooks the harbor where they took a moonlit boat ride on their first date 50 years ago. They've been married since 1947.
The photographs of Fulton and Erma Weed of Deer Isle are a combination of environmental portraits and extreme closeups that show their devotion to each other.
"The photographs are so tender," says Patry. "You can see where they rely on one another. How many times do you say you'd like to grow old together? These photographs are what it's all about."
Fass's interviews with his subjects also are evocative of their devotion to each other, as well as the common-sense, practical values that have kept many of these long-marrieds together.
"What is real love?" Fass asked Fulton and Erma Weed.
"Real love is stable," Erma replied.
"Real love is not holding grudges," said Fulton.
Fass, who is a photographer, actor and writer from New York City, hopes to interview and photograph 50 couples from all over the United States by the time he's finished. He's casting a wide net for subjects and thus far has photographed couples from Deer Isle to Hawaii. Most recently, he photographed an American Indian couple on a reservation in Oregon. He's still looking for an interracial couple to photograph and interview. And he is hoping to convince a Mormon man with eight wives to sit for a session.
"What a commentary on marriage that would be," he says.
Fass says 40 years of marriage was a number he simply plucked out of the air. From observing his parents, he was aware that that milestone would provide subjects who could comment on pasts rich with experience and a present filled with changes being faced together.
"The word 'value' plays all around this project," says Fass. "Most don't make a claim to higher moral ground. But they think that people are missing out and children are missing out on something valuable when marriages don't last."
Fass has added eight couples in the past five months and says he needs 15 to 20 more to make it to 50. The project is slow-going, Fass says, because he must schedule photo sessions between acting jobs and his effort to write a novel. Fass gives subjects a finished portrait in return for the right to use them in his exhibit and the book that he hopes will eventually spring from it.
Robert Coles, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author and the editor of DoubleTake magazine, has agreed to write the introduction to the book. Fass is applying for grants now so that he can dedicate more of his time to completing the project.
|A sample of photos by Robert Fass (above) can be seen at http://www.longmarriedcouples.com.||
Among the Maine couples photographed by Fass are Andrew and Rose Gove of Stonington, married in 1947.
Joanne Lannin can be contacted at 791-6650 or at:
©2002 Portland Press Herald