Photographing Ageless Beauty
For more than a decade, Heidi Wagner worked at Frazier Meadows Retirement Community using her degree in kinesiology and applied physiology to assist seniors. But on vacations, and in her spare time, she indulged in her true passion: photography.
Years earlier, a photography book, Growing Old Is Not for Sissies, by Etta Clark caught her eye. The book was filled with beautiful pictures of fantastically fit older people engaging in strenuous physical activities — and Wagner never forgot it.
”I wanted to bring my passion into my workplace,” she said, “so I decided to do a portrait series of the residents [doing]what they love to do in their lives.”
So she began by asking them, “What’s your passion?” Then she started taking pictures.
The Passion Project was born.
The mostly self-taught artist admits it wasn’t easy at first, and she never considered herself a portrait photographer. But throughout her travels around the globe, it was always the people more than the place that fascinated her the most.
“I guess the love of people have always been in me,” Wagner said, “but it wasn’t until I started doing this project that I truly felt it.”
The Passion Project was thus conceived as a photographic display that lives within the community, with twenty framed portraits exhibited publicly to stimulate conversation and discovery. It also made sense as a marketing tool; Wagner hopes prospective residents will see The Passions Project and think, “These are the people who are going to be my neighbors and potentially my new friends because we have these shared interests.”
She feels getting people to relate to each other through their passion —to see each other living with purpose — is one of the best things about the project. She says it gets people not just wondering about their own passion, but also thinking, “I don’t want to be [like this person]when I’m older, I want to be like them right now!”
In 2013, The Passion Project caught the attention of LeadingAge, an association of 6,000 not-for-profit organizations whose stated mission is to make America a better place to grow old. Later that year, the organization presented Wagner and her work at its conference in Dallas. There, LeadingAge introduced her to Christian Care Senior Living Community and C. C. Young Senior Living.
When Heidi met Sam Davis at Christian Care Senior Living Community in Mesquite, Texas, he was suffering from dementia and was unable to communicate effectively. She only knew he loved baseball. So Wagner began to engage with him about his time as a professional player, asking what positions he played and what type of hitter he was. He answered every question with clarity and excitement.
Listening to him, living in those moments with such vigor and ease really struck a cord with Wagner.
“I had heard about people with dementia having a ‘window moment,’” she said. “But I had never experienced it personally before, until now.”
For his photo shoot, Davis was relaxed and smiling. He came dressed in his baseball uniform, complete with his glove. It was clear to see that this was his passion.
Later when Wagner worked on a photo session with Anita Hullum, a resident at C.C. Young Senior Living in Dallas, Wagner found herself in awe of Hullum’s many talents, interests and accomplishments. The portrait that emerged was that of an artist at home, displaying her passion for creating unique pottery. The friendship that formed between subject and photographer continues to this day.
“What we love about Heidi and The Passion Project is that she does what we try to do here every day,” said Jennifer Griffin, Director of Communications and Public Relations at C. C. Young. “She meets people where they are right now, and celebrates the joys, successes and passions that enable them to stay younger longer. Her photos show you can thrive and grow, learn and create, and have fun until the day you die.”
As a child, Wagner loved sports, and even earned a basketball scholarship to college. Photography, however, was where her heart was. But life stepped in, and her career took the path of helping seniors. Now she has returned to her true passion: presenting the loves, desires and passions of others, through the lens of her camera.
“A passion doesn’t have to be something epic like building an airplane and flying it over the Bering Strait,” Wagner said. “It can be as simple as wanting to read or completing a jigsaw puzzle. Passion just has to be that ‘thing’ that gets you up in the morning when maybe you just feel like staying in bed.”
And now, she lives her passion everyday, gracing us with portraits of just how beautiful aging can be.
For more information on Heidi Wagner and The Passions Project, visit www.ThePassionsProject.com