'Lives Well Lived'
Sky Bergman (far left) with student assistant Ellen Williams (center) photographing Evy Justesen. | Photo by Sky Bergman
How do we see ourselves going through the aging process? What are our preconceived notions on aging?
It turns out that getting older doesn’t have to be a time of slowing down and settling in; instead, it can be the time you really begin living the best way possible. There are individuals in their golden years leading by example and showing the potential that late adulthood really holds.
Cal Poly photography Professor Sky Bergman is working to document such stories of people who are testaments to a life well lived. She has been working on a film and photography venture that captures the images and ideas of senior individuals, who, with their passion for life, inspire younger generations.
“I’m infinitely curious in just about everything.
Everything interests me. It has all my life.”
- Ciel Bergman, 75 | Photo by Sky Bergman
“ Every day ask yourself: ‘Did you do enough
that day?’ If not, make it up the next day.”
- Botso Korisheli, 92 | Photo by Sky Bergman
"I am terminally optimisitc."
- Rachael Winn-Yon, 79 | Photo by Sky Bergman
“Don’t think ahead; live in the moment…
I’m so aware of the beauty
around me, that I think it’s my passion.”
- Jesse Alexander, 84 | Photo by Sky Bergman
Titled “Lives Well Lived,” the project showcases how technology and the ancient art of storytelling can work together to represent a generation that is “aging with dignity, grace, energy and purpose,” according to Bergman.
Though the “Lives Well Lived” body of work focuses on the successful and fulfilling lives of others, the project was inspired by events very personal to Bergman. “I always tell my students, the more personal a project, sometimes the more universal it becomes. And that’s really what happened with this project — it really started with my grandmother,” Bergman says.
Bergman’s spark of inspiration for the project came while she was in Florida celebrating her grandmother’s 99th birthday. “She was at the gym, and she was on the bicycle, and she was lifting weights. Just as a throwaway comment, I said, ‘Grandma, can you give me some words of wisdom?’ And she said, ‘Words of wisdom from an old lady: be kind, live life to the limits,’ and she just went on from there,” Bergman says.
“I thought, there is a project here because here is a woman who has lived all these years, who still has so many friends, is still so active and engaged. That’s what I want to be like, and there are more people out there like that, and I want to know their stories.”
Since the project’s inception, Bergman has interviewed men and women over the age of 75 and has recorded their experiences and taken still photographs of each.
Eventually Bergman plans to create a documentary film that joins the different interviews together into a cohesive story about strength and a consistently positive attitude throughout a lifetime.
This project “shows people who are still active and engaged, people who we can aspire to be when we age,” Bergman says.
“Lives Well Lived” is intended to encourage viewers to see late adulthood as a positive life experience in which people can still find meaning and purpose. “I’ve always been curious, and I’ve always asked a lot of questions, but I’m 48, and I’m getting older, and I want a role model of what I want to become when I’m older,” Bergman says.
The participants included in the “Lives Well Lived” project, recruited through a process of nominations, have illuminated Bergman’s own endeavor with a versatility of lifestyles and tips for younger generations.
Among the interviewees are Evelyn Ricciuti, Bergman’s grandmother; Botso Korisheli, who was originally from the Republic of Georgia and fled the country at the start of Josef Stalin’s regime; and Jessie Stone, who lived through the Civil Rights Movement.
“Whether it be paving the way for women’s rights or suffering in Russia under Stalin, they all have stories that have inspired me to try to achieve at least a portion of what they have accomplished,” says Brittany Martha Bratcher, Bergman’s student assistant and history junior.
The video interviews illustrate a few key traits, among them optimism and perseverance. “There are really two things that have been a common thread. One, they all have something they are passionate about doing every day. There’s this thirst for knowledge. The other thing is, they all have a good support system. They really are surrounded by a number of people who care about them,” Bergman says.
Many of the interviewees, despite experiencing daunting obstacles throughout their lives, have simply chosen to be happy.
“It’s that old adage, ‘Is the glass half full or half empty?’ In the case of the people I’ve interviewed, they’re half-full people,” Bergman says.
Stories from elders who have lived and experienced common and extraordinary hardships but have maintained upbeat, positive attitudes can be both empowering and instructive.
“There’s a whole generation of people who are just incredible and aren’t getting the kind of support they really should have,” Bergman says. “You can’t imagine how much those people have to give until you sit down and talk to them.”
“Everybody has a story, if you just take the time to listen.”
Download a pdf of the full IMPACT magazine.
Hear the complete stories of the “Lives Well Lived” participants at www.lives-well-lived.com.