0 to 100

101 faces. 101 photographs. One for every age – 0 to 100.

There are blue eyes and green eyes, ivory skin and brown skin, black hair and white hair. There’s also a slow, simmering build-up of confidence, a comfort of living in your own skin, of knowing what life’s about, of being happy with who you are, in those eyes, on that skin, as the procession of faces unfolds. The new born baby, Robin Walker, howls to the world, “I’m here!” while the 100-year-old lady, Marguerite Davis, with her clear, focused gaze, answers back, “So am I!”

This is 0 to 100, Australian-Canadian photographer Sandy Nicholson‘s new book celebrating the human face (or force) at every age, up to a century. “I’m interested in aging, the changing perceptions of age and the realities of an aging population,” says Nicholson of his inspiration. “It was one of those simple ideas that started with the thought, ‘What would 100 people look like if …’ and then we were off to find out. The project was a collaboration between me, Up Inc – the brand communications firm who came up with and developed the idea of creating an app and the limited edition book – and Flash Reproductions, who initiated the whole thing and printed a limited-edition run of the book.”

Ten days of shooting took place from Sydney, Australia, to Toronto, Canada over the course of a few weeks. A hundred subjects later, Nicholson’s vision was fit to print. As you go from image to image, something interesting begins to happen. The eyes are stronger, the smiles are wider – you’re among those who have been there and done that – and still are. Nicholson agrees: “The older the subjects were, the more confident they were. I think I’m going to be a happy person at 90, and if I make it to 100, I will be very happy!” In any other venue, the outward signs of aging – the wrinkles, the bifocals, the thinning lips – would be just that, but here, they’re laugh lines, imprints of experience and artful etchings of the human condition. “I loved the confidence and curiosity of the small children when they came to the studio,” says Nicholson, “yet this was also part of the older people.”

The photographer went beyond the lens to get the essence of many of his subjects. “The older people were really engaged and I kept thinking, perhaps you live longer if you stay active in the world,” says Nicholson. “Max Gordon at 91 and Glyn Ellis at 97 are active men on committees and involved in other events. Marguerite was giving nursing advice to her grandchildren, and she came to the show in Toronto and autographed posters.” During the sittings, he recorded their thoughts on their age right at that moment. Here’s a sampling from one whipper-snapper: “I’ll be a princess. A rock star. I’m going to be a princess rock star.” Or this: “When you’re a teenager, there’s a lot of kind of prejudices against you about your age.” Well, well.

We’re all aware that this very same thing happens to us as we age. Even with the boomer generation’s dominating presence, misconceptions of aging continue to run rampant in North American society. And who do we have to blame? Ourselves, for the most part. It was a very young Pete Townshend who wrote, “Hope I die before I get old” for his equally young lead singer Roger Daltrey to spout in The Who’s seminal hit, “My Generation,” yet Townshend is still rocking at what some think should-be-retired 66. Didn’t we all purport that you couldn’t trust anyone over 30 way back when?
Until we got there and, then, went beyond.

Now, it’s not unusual to hear about triumphs at any age. At 84, architect Eberhard Zeidler – one of Nicholson’s faces – is busy on projects for the likes of Donald Trump and in far-flung locales, such as Dubai. “When I was 40, I thought I was an old man!” says Zeidler. As one may think, “The 50-plus-year-olds have busy lives – they are all still working and active,” says Nicholson. “The 90-year-olds have slowed down – most of them have changed the way they live, having moved from their family homes to assisted living of some sort.” Of course, he adds, these same older people were more interesting and had more varied stories. “One subject had survived the holocaust and talked about the day that the guards started treating them like people, a few days before they were liberated. That was the happiest day of her life. They are a different generation.” On the set, however, the generation gap was less obvious. “Some days, we had three generations of families, which was a lot of fun,” says Nicholson. “We also had days when we had groups of older people waiting to be photographed. They would listen to each other’s stories while they waited. The younger everyone got, the less time they had to spare. The older people had more time to spend in the studio.”

More time to contemplate, too. Nicholson noted that the elder half of the subjects appeared to have the best approach to aging. “They were reflective and humorous and talked about love and the loss of friends,” he says. Syd Haque, 56, observed: “What I know now, with a 20-year-old body – I would be really dangerous. I would be a lethal weapon.” Here’s how Margerie Moyle uses her body: “Woo! I dance, woo!” She’s 95. At 67, Joy Garden Powell remarks: “I feel just peachy keen. I’m glad I made it to this age.” The 72-year-old Deborah New says, “Old is knowing what matters and rejecting the rest.” Perhaps Margaret Killingbeck, 77, puts it most succinctly: “I don’t give shit who tells me what to do!” The ever-engaged Ellis told Nicholson, “The only thing I plan to leave behind, I hope, is a good impression.”

And that beautiful 100-year-old? “You don’t have to worry about anything,” says Davis. “You let other people do the worrying.” And that, to us, is truly the definition of an autograph-signing princess rock star. —Vivian Vassos

0 to 100 is on exhibit May 26, 2011, The Kingsway Arms, Aurora, Ont., then Sydney, Australia, later in the year. The limited edition of the book (100 copies) is sold out, but Nicholson and his creative are making a flip book of the project, which can be bought at www.sandynicholson.com. The app is free to download from iTunes.