Many people let age define what they are capable of doing. We're born, we grow up, and then we spend the rest of our lives slowing down, deteriorating as our bones weaken.
Angela Jimenez has discovered a new perspective on the aging process. While working on an unrelated project, she met someone competing in the masters circuit—an athletic bracket for older people, ranging from 35 to over 100 years old. The circuit is divided into age brackets that ascend in five-year age increments, so competition is constantly being reset. Jimenez herself had been a heptathlete in college. She became fascinated, and maybe even obsessed, by the idea of older people competing in track events.
Jimenez's project, Racing Age, which is on display through June 19 at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, documents old athletes who still have a burning desire to race and compete. Jimenez has worked on this project intermittently since 2007 in places like Italy, France, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Mexico.
"I was still stuck in this idea that the human body reaches its peak form when you're young," said Jimenez. She comments on how uncomfortable it is to watch a 90-year-old man run: "You want him to sit down and be safe. That's not what he wants to do."
Jimenez met one pole vaulter whose inspiration was to maintain the peak performance he had in his mid 70s. Another 90-year-old woman was eager to be in a new age bracket since her previous records had been broken. Getting older really meant she was now the youngest in her age pool.
"There's more camaraderie among these athletes than the elite level," Jimenez says. "They do it because it's positive. It keeps them active. It gives them a strong sense of identity. I can't tell you how refreshing it's been to talk with older people not just about the past," Jimenez said.
Her photographs portray a different kind of competition. "They're competing against their aging bodies," says Jimenez. For this project, Jimenez used a Hasselblad—a medium-format film camera that uses 12 frames per roll and photographs in black-and-white. "It's not an Instagram filter over the images. They're actually black-and-white." It's a slow process. Everything is manual. The perfect camera, Jimenez noted, for filming older people.
Jimenez's focus is on longer-term projects—emphasizing subculture, community, and the redefinition of the human body and stereotypes. "The camera is a passport to go into these different environments to connect with people and carry their stories out. It's sacred. It's magical. I just kind of got bit by the bug."
Jimenez's work is currently in the "Photography Now" exhibition at the Center for Photography at Woodstock through June 19. She is compiling a book documenting her Racing Age project with oral histories, interviews, and photographs, which is available for presale and will be published this fall.