No negative

An older woman drinking from a teacupYesterday, I went to NO NEGATIVE, an exhibition of winning photographs that are challenging and stimulating debate around perceptions of ageing. The photos were all entries in a photo competition launched by the Age Action Alliance last September, to mark the second anniversary of the Alliance.

The Age Action Alliance brings older people and cross sector organisations together to celebrate the opportunities and address the challenges of our ageing society. The competition was designed to help the Alliance build a representative picture of positive ageing, and to grow a bank of positive images to help promote better attitudes to ageing in the UK.

There were six categories in the competition, which were intended to encourage images of ageing which represent the diversity of people in later life. They were: Celebrating Age; Digital World; Mind the Gap; Diverse Ageing; Ageing Themes (Loneliness & Isolation, Attitudes to Ageing and Public Health & Active Lifestyles) and an Open category.

All the photos can be seen on the Age Action Alliance website

The exhibition was held at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation on Hoxton Square, in a beautiful, light and airy office. The top three photos in each category were displayed on banners and the winning photographers and some of their subjects were all invited to attend.


The winning photograph in the ‘Celebrating Age’ category was ‘Cooks’ – photographed by Luke Mitchell, who was commissioned by LinkAge, a charity that works with people 55+ and local communities in Bristol.

Two cooks

The photo stars Cherry and Hyacinth (left and right), who are older volunteer cooks at the Malcolm X Community Centre in St Paul’s, Bristol. Both of them were at the exhibition and I spoke to Cherry, aged 81, who cooks delicious two-course Caribbean meals every Monday for up to 50 people. She’s been doing this for seven years.

Cherry told me: ‘It’s an honour to be here – I didn’t know I could get this far cooking! I’ve been in the kitchen since I was 15 years old, coming from a family of eight siblings. I’ve always cooked, it’s been my duty. I’m really happy with the photo because I enjoy cooking so much. I don’t have a favourite dish – they’re all my favourites!’


It was great to see so many positive depictions of ageing, both in print and in the flesh. All too often older people are portrayed as burdens on society, as helpless victims of age, who need services and support.

This simply isn’t the case – and such stereotyping can have a very negative effect, leading to some older people feeling socially isolated. Many older people also feel excluded from opportunities for employment, volunteering and learning, because of negative attitudes and age stereotypes.

This has to change. The change won’t happen overnight, but it can happen bit by bit, starting with photo competitions like this one. Images have a powerful effect on us as we all know – you only need to pick up the newspaper to be affected by the front page. Using words too, perhaps we can start to build a movement that changes the way people think about ageing, together.

Read out other inspiring older people like Alan Beattie on the Age UK website

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