As he explored Vietnam, Réhahn became fascinated with the overlooked beauty of the eldest members of the communities he visited. He began taking portraits for his “Ageless Beauty” project that celebrated the marks of age and brought them into high-relief. In opposition to society’s traditional idea of beauty, these photographs were not edited to smooth wrinkles and erase years. Instead, they challenge the very concept of what is beautiful and why.
What is Ageless Beauty?
Her hands are marked from decades of embroidering, planting and harvesting, holding her children, and her children’s children. There are lines of joy, lines of sorrow, lines born from the satisfaction of hard work, and lines from exhaustion.
They are simply seen as the sum of their parts: old hands wrinkled with age.
If it were possible to reverse the clock and erase the years from these hands, what else would be lost?
Quite literally, the marks earned over the course of a lifetime.
Search for the word “ageless” on the internet and results pop up that literally seem to shout at the viewer. Magic creams, beauty advice and even surgical techniques beckon the viewer to click and stay forever young. Buy one product for “youthful vitality”, another for a “virtual facelift”. Massage your face daily to avoid wrinkles, drink litres of kale juice and, if all else fails, there’s always Botox™.
There are commonalities in most of the results. The articles are targeted at women, usually urging them to buy something. Even Oxford Dictionaries defines the word Ageless as “never looking old or appearing to grow old.”
In Oscar Wilde’s novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, young Dorian is ruined by the hedonistic philosophies of Lord Henry.
“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes” Lord Henry proclaimed in the novel. His words prompted Dorian to sell his soul for the gift of eternal youth. Along with his soul, Dorian ends up giving away the meaning and morality of his life.
Oscar Wilde’s views on eternal youth equaling eternal damnation take the concept of “anti-aging” to the extreme. Yet, this novel, which was first published in 1890, still remains relevant today.
Modern society, in most parts of the world, values youth and beauty above all else. As a result, there is an extreme amount of pressure to remain young. In the eyes of many, the elderly lose value as they age. Yet, they are often the ones who preserve the heritage of the family and/or the culture.
TIMELESS BEAUTY IN VIETNAM
Réhahn’s goal is to present a different idea of what it means to “age gracefully.”
The artist’s “Ageless Beauty” portraits reveal people who’ve seen history go by, from wars to peace, isolation to development. Some, such as the tribal people from the snow-tipped Northern mountains, have spent their whole lives in their villages. They’ve continue to live with the same traditions that were used 100s of years earlier. Others, have spent nearly a century working on the Central Highland coffee plantations or sailing Hoi An’s picturesque waterways.
Yet, these images are more than just portraits of a remarkable country and its people. They highlight the need to rethink the standards of beauty worldwide as well as ways in which we regard people as they age. What better place to do this than in Vietnam, which has an incredible number of people who live past the age of 100!