Photographer Holly Wren’s exhibition LOVE LIVED is on the first and second floor lobbies at Broadgate Tower in the City of London. Giant cubes featuring images of 14 people she interviewed for her project were lit up outside back in February and are now on the move to two further locations. “The cubes have been really popular and look spectacular at night. They are a great way for people to engage with art,” says Holly, whose aim was to have a cross-generational project that challenges preconceptions around love and relationships and celebrates ageing. She is also questioning why older people – the fabric of the city – are no longer anywhere to be seen.
“It was really important that the project wasn’t all hearts and flowers. There are people who have that and there are people who have never found love, and all the degrees in between. There are many different types of love to experience, and these stories demonstrate that breadth”.
All of her subjects except one couple, Rita and Ernie (above) were sourced through Contact the Elderly, the charity supporting the exhibition. They were all photographed at home and have experienced love in many forms – from chaperoned dates to chance meetings, dance halls and war army bases. Themes include first loves, passion, rejection, affection and marriage.
All of the stories are fascinating but some stand out for their subjects’ bravery in challenging social norms at the time. Joan was rejected by her first love and went on to build a business based on love, running the UK’s first escort agency and a computer dating service with a man she met on a blind date. Chitra from Trinidad shunned her arranged marriage when she realised it would mean giving up her career and moved to the UK in 1963 to train as a teacher. Florence from Jamaica responded to a lonely-hearts ad in her local paper, which led to a lifelong romance. Sidney, an ex-serviceman, describes his 62-year marriage to Winifred was one of convenience that had its ups and downs and questions how relevant marriage is to the younger generation now.
“We don’t normally ask older people about their experiences of love so it was good to have a conversation around that. I asked them questions like, “Can you describe love?” and “what was it that you loved about your husband?” Two of the men cried when talking about their wives who had died but interestingly none of the women did, which surprised me as the exhibition mostly featured women. Sometimes the responses were quite simple, which made me wonder if we overthink love or place too much emphasis on looking for some pre-ordained idea”.
Looking at photos of strangers can be a little surreal so hearing their backstories and having some context through video interviews is grounding. The videos on Holly’s website add depth and enable you to get to know the characters a bit more. Love is universal in whatever form it takes and it’s reassuring to know we’re not alone with our disappointments.
“I’m amazed at the things people said and their honesty. I feel privileged to have done this. Most ordinary people are completely extraordinary when you dig in…”
LOVE LIVED is at the Broadgate Tower first and second-floor lobby spaces, available to view by appointment until 10th June. www.lovelived.co.uk.
Visit Contact the Elderly to find out more about joining their team of volunteers.