It has been a while since we were asked to shoot an elderly care facility, but recently we photographed two with more in the wings. I don’t think of myself as old, after all I do have college-aged children who periodically darken my doorstep and routinely call for cash, but at some point I can see myself quietly slipping into the octogenarian mode pushing my wheelie and asking kindly folks to repeat themselves. To find myself in a large facility completely dedicated to the care of the over 80 set was quite an experience. Fortunately, no one called me “sonny” and most were glad to see us. They welcomed us with kindness and a cooperative spirit that you would more likely find in an elementary school, rather than a retirement facility. I had mixed feelings about the age ranked segregation of the residents, but as a colleague pointed out, many of these people would be shut-ins if it were not for communities like these. The facilities provide a safe, clean and engaging living environment for people who reach a stage in life where providing care for themselves is a burden.
Both facilities, one designed by Steinberg Architects, the other by Smith Group JJR, felt much more like country clubs or elegant hotels, than warehouses for the nearly dead. Each facility had large, impressive lobbies and grand dining facilities indistinguishable from five star hotels. The food was surprisingly good and there were enough activities going on to leave even a “young person” like myself panting. More than one person asked if I wanted to sign up. It was tempting.
Our approach in photographing these facilities was to show them as inviting and humane. We did that with introducing large amounts of professional photo lighting and people into each space. Lighting complex spaces and peopling them with real people is something of a trademark of ours and gives our work a verisimilitude lacking in much architectural photography today. The design teams from both Smith Group JJR and Steinberg Architects were tireless in their support and dedication to creating an environment that anyone from nine to ninety could be comfortable living in.