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The Wisdom of Age will always be with us

This week I am revelling in publicity about a book containing photos that I was commissioned to take by the Somerset Care Group. Several months ago I was asked to take portraits of 20 Somerset Centenarians to appear in a book to mark the 20th anniversary of Somerset Care. If you don’t have the June issue of Somerset Life to hand and haven’t seen the Western Daily Press or Western Morning News then check out: http://tinyurl.com/6cscvlo to read all about it!

Mabel-StuckeyAs I photographed these grand old men and women, I was struck by their knowledge and the historical perspectives wrapped up in each individual’s wealth of experience. Nowadays everything is about youth, and you only have to pick up a newspaper, switch on the TV or reach for a glossy magazine to be told how to look younger, have smoother skin, banish those wrinkles. It’s as if we want to erase old age and everything associated with it. The individuals that I photographed for Somerset Centenarians had an inner beauty that lay beneath their lines and wrinkles – and those lines and wrinkles are proof of a lifetime and a fascinating story just waiting to be revealed.
I notice this time and time again as I continue to build on the First Women portfolio of portraits. One of the first portraits I took was of centenarian Edith Kent. She made her way into the history books as the first woman in Britain to earn the same wage as her male colleagues.
Being 4ft 11in her diminutive stature meant that she could crawl inside torpedo tubes while working as a welder during the Second World War. Starting on five pounds and six shillings (£5 6s) a week as a skilled female worker, she was soon given a rise to £6 6s. A male manual worker in 1943 would have been on a weekly wage of only £5 8s 6d.
Edith said she was extremely proud of her signal achievement but she was embarrassed at the time.
She said: “I got the job because my brothers worked at the dockyard and they thought I would be good at it. I was the first woman to work as a welder there. It made me a bit uncomfortable that I was the first woman to earn the same as the men — and in some cases I was earning more than them. All the men I worked with were marvellous and they didn’t seem to mind me earning the same.”
Edith achieved parity of pay at the Devonport dockyard in Plymouth and doesn’t feature in the book which will be launched at next week’s Bath and West Show. The 20 centenarians featured in the book are not all Somerset born and bred, but by reason of their varying circumstances have all become residents of the county as they celebrate their centuries. Their stories are vastly different, from the Tiller Girl to the South African Lady to the men and women who have always lived here. Each of their stories contains love and loss, and includes their own personal experiences of the momentous events that shaped the 20th century.
The stories and my portraits show how Somerset Care offers older people varying levels of independence whether it is in their own home – as in Mabel Stuckey’s case where she is looked after by carers, or Bessie Barnes who stands proudly in the front room of her sheltered housing in front of her centenary birthday cards or Ivy Springham who lives in one of Somerset Care’s nursing homes.
The book, priced at £16.99 and available through normal booksellers or at £14.99 if purchased direct from Somerset Care, was written by Kalina Newman, with photographs from the subjects’ own archives and contemporary portraits by myself, Anita Corbin. It is published by Wellington-based Halsgrove Publishing.
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