“I hope this image allows people to embrace and honour their bodies at all stages of life,” says Tajette O’Halloran of her Portrait of Humanity winning image. Titled You can post this after I die, the photograph shows O’Halloran and her grandma, Ruth Schwartz, standing in just their underwear and smiling at one another.
The photograph was taken in 2016, when O’Halloran was visiting her grandma one evening at her retirement home in Boca Raton, Florida. O’Halloran was hopping into the shower as Schwartz undressed to use her oxygen machine. “She looked at me and said ‘Oi Vey, what a figure!’” recalls O’Halloran. What ensued was a spontaneous and playful photoshoot, a familiar scenario for the photographer, who often used her vivacious grandmother as the subject of her photographs.
“This image shines a light on my grandma’s charismatic and spirited personality,” says O’Halloran. “But society often fails to recognise elderly people as significant individuals in their own right.” O’Halloran hopes that the image lets people see beyond the limitations of her grandma’s age, and to recognise the person she was. “My grandma experienced great loneliness as she got older,” says O’Halloran, “But she never lost her spark.”
O’Halloran entered the image into Portrait of Humanity last year: “My grandma had recently died and I had started to revisit some of the images she told me I could share after she was gone,” she explains. Schwartz died at age 94, and O’Halloran is comforted by the volumes of photographs and memories that shed light on the woman she was. This photograph will now go on show around the world as part of the Portrait of Humanity touring exhibition. “I worshipped her,” says O’Halloran. “Ageing and death are confronting, but my grandma’s unique way of being has taught me to honour my own authenticity throughout my life.”