In the following interview, Manu shares photos from her personal project, Vésper, which is the continuation of her initial project, Retratos do Fim that she began in 2018. Italicized text is from the projects’ artist statement.
Vésper is the Venus Planet seen after sunset or before dawn. Just like old age, which is not an end, but the end of one cycle (sunset) and the beginning of another (breaking dawn).
I saw my mother, in her late 60s, looking for work. My mother was born and raised in a social context in which access to education was difficult, especially for women, as the priority was men. With only a basic education, she dedicated her life to children, husband and domestic work. At one point in her life, she felt the need of restarting and finding work and faced a discriminatory market.
In the History of Art, Venus represents power of the female body, the symbol with a circle and a cross underneath, which we know as Feminine, is the Mirror of Venus, the planet’s astrological symbol.
While sharing my mother’s frustrations, my paternal grandmother, at 94, lived with cancer and dementia. She was supported by one of her daughters, who took care of her until the last hours of her life. This notion of caring is culturally associated with the role of mother – and therefore, with the feminine: the woman is in the middle of the care cycle, having to deal with old, young and children. In the end, the one who always cared, when she gets older and needs care, does not find support. Not to mention the issue of black women and the LGBT population of this age group who are invisible to care policies.
In Vesper, women who live the last years of life are photographed – alone or supported by family members, the female is seen in the triad: woman, old age and loneliness (from living together and after death), a long-term project, but with urgency and speed.
My first photo subject for this project was my grandmother. It was very difficult. But, photographing the family itself, as I read by Annie Leibovitz, “is probably the most rewarding work you will do.” And it was. I hope to photograph many women. This project will only end when I feel that I have really fulfilled my mission in relation to the subject.
The difficulties of aging women are not always (re) known. Aging is still a topic of little relevance in Brazil and, in this context, women receive even less prominence. We saw in 2020, the first year of the Pandemic, a worsening of prejudice against the elderly, who were seen as a burden on society and the health system. However, the discrimination experienced by women is much greater in the elderly phase, when intolerance is not only related to chronological age, but also appearance: age is shown as a marker that, once again, forces women to create strategies against aging.
Photography is a language I use to say what was and is still inside me. The questions, frustrations. If I were a writer, I would write about that experience. But photography is what talks to me and speaks for me. Through it I can, in a way, materialize what I feel in a way that other people can identify with.
This project is a close look at the daily feminist struggle, which doesn’t choose age or time. We’re moving towards a world with more old people and we are not changing the scenario to make it more welcoming, especially for women. It is frustrating to know that, possibly, the future that awaits me is a society where age proves to be a marker that compacts ways of thinking about and understanding an individual.