For many people, age is nothing but a number. Award-winning designer, artist and filmmaker David Schwittek’s inspiring portrait photographs will be on exhibition at Gallery 18 at the Riverdale Y through February 28, with the opening reception scheduled for Sunday, February 10, 12:30-2:30 p.m. Through word and images, Schwittek’s portrait photographs explore the impact of creativity and the arts on aging, specifically highlighting individuals over the age of 65 who are currently engaged in one or more forms of creative expression.
Schwittek, assistant professor of graphic design and digital media at Lehman College, and his colleague Justine McGovern, assistant professor in the department of social work, teamed up to create an interdisciplinary research project, which they named “Through the Lens of Age.” The project, which involved pairing 25 undergraduates with 25 senior citizens, and asking them to talk with each other, spend time socializing and take photographs of one another, was initially met with resistance, especially among the young students. For McGovern, the motivation was teaching her students the importance of learning how to do academic research. Schwittek was concerned about fostering a relationship between the students and the older adults.
Watching the progress of the study over the course of the semester, McGovern noted the transformation that occurred between the two groups, as they prepared to present their work. The students were empowered to realize they could accomplish this kind of research and enjoyed developing relationships with the seniors. Schwittek also took note of the changing connections that were developing within the group, including making progress toward changing negative perceptions of age. Schwittek explained about the younger students, “I think they learned to value the elderly a little bit more. They learned to see age as more of a social construct.”
Study findings indicated that when interdisciplinary relationships were developed, through this arts-based participatory research project, decreased isolation and depression were noted among the older participants, while the younger adults had reduced fears about their own aging and futures. The intergenerational engagement created by the study provided motivation for the students’ success.
Schwittek’s portrait photographs, highlighting older adults who live in the Riverdale and Kingsbridge areas, demonstrate the positive impact on the individuals who were engaged in forms of creative expression. The photo series casts it gaze on the faces of the artists themselves, celebrating the supremacy and intimacy of the portrait, attempting to crystallize something unique about each subject’s creative spirit. Each portrait features a brief statement by the subject revealing their processes and what creativity means to them. This exhibit was first presented at the 12th International Conference of the Arts in Society at the American University of Paris, France, in June 2017.
The artist’s reception, with light refreshments served, will offer the public the chance to meet the artist and socialize with members of the community.
The Riverdale Y is located at 5625 Arlington Avenue, Bronx, New York, and can be reached at 718-548-8200.
By Yvette Finkelstein