Each photograph of “Ageless Beauty”, a photo series by Réhahn, is a journey through Vietnam. The portraits reveal faces of tribal people who’ve lived for the better part of a century in the snow-tipped mountains of the North, the coffee plantations of the central highlands, or along the picturesque waterways of Hoi An.
The subjects have seen history go by, from wars to peace, isolation to development.
Some have remained in their village for generations, continuing to live with the same traditions that were used 100s of years earlier. Yet, these images are more than just portraits of a remarkable country and its people.
They challenge the very concept of what is beautiful and why. Over the course of Réhahn’s 8-years of exploration and documentation of Viet nam, he became fascinated with the often overlooked beauty of the oldest members of the communities he visited, and decided to create a project that would honor them.
The photographs are not edited to smooth wrinkles and erase years, instead, the marks of age are celebrated and brought into high relief.
The instant popularity of this collection has highlighted the need to rethink the standards of beauty in our societies 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!
Travel along with us each month to discover a place where beauty has no boundaries in our Ageless Beauty series. Chapter 1 follows below.
Her hands are marked from decades of embroidering, planting and harvesting, holding her children, and her children’s children. There are lines of joy, and 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 turn back the clock and erase the years from these hands, smooth them back into the unlined skin of a 20-year-old, what else would be lost?
Quite literally, the marks earned over the course of a lifetime.
What does Ageless Beauty Really Mean?
A quick search for the word “ageless” on the internet pops up a selection of results that literally seem to shout at the viewer. The names of magic creams, beauty advice and even surgical techniques beckon the viewer to click in order to stay forever young.
Buy one product for “youthful vitality”, another for a “virtual facelift”. Massage your face every day to avoid wrinkles, drink litres of cold-pressed kale juice and if all else fails there is always Botox™.
There are commonalities in most of the results. The articles are targeted at women, usually urging them to buy something. The word ageless itself is actually marketing slang for “fighting the ageing process”.
Even Oxford Dictionaries defines the word as “Never looking old or appearing to grow old.”
In Oscar Wilde’s famous novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, Dorian, the young protagonist, is swayed by the hedonistic, anti-aging philosophies of an older man named Lord Henry.
“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes”, Lord Henry proclaims prompting 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, but 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 and as a result there is an extreme amount of pressure to remain young. In the eyes of many, elderly lose value as they age, despite the fact that it is often the elders in a community who preserve the heritage of the family and/or the culture.
Réhahn’s photographs present a different idea of what it means to “age gracefully”.
“ To me, ageless beauty means beauty that is timeless. Rather than constantly striving to appear young, there is meaning in celebrating humankind in all its forms, ages and stages. In my opinion, the only thing that stays beautiful is something that touches my heart.” – Réhahn
And the subjects of his Ageless Beauty portraits have done just that. Yet, the questions still loom: How do we remain relevant as we age? How do we keep our spirit?
**Find out Réhahn’s thoughts about these questions as well as stories about other Ageless Beauty subjects in the soon to be released Chapter 2.