The first centenarian ― or person over 100 ― that Karsten Thormaehlen photographed was his friend’s grandmother.
“I was impressed by her presence, her knowledge and liveliness,” Thormaehlen told The Huffington Post of the experience, which occurred in Berlin in 2006.
Thormaehlen’s been taking pictures of centenarians ever since. He reaches out to senior institutions, local newspapers and the tourists offices in the places that he travels.
“Most centenarians are well known in their communities, it proves life is worth living there,” Thormaehlen said.
The Internet also helps him seek out subjects, and helps subjects and their families find him. Recently, for example, he was contacted by someone from Russia, who shared photos of her grandfather, a WWII veteran who fought against the Nazis. Thormaehlen hopes that he can eventually take the man’s portrait and include him in future projects.
His current project, Aging Gracefully, is a photo book collecting the people he’s captured on camera. In one portrait, a French woman’s close-cropped crew cut feels like a contemporary look, but her necklace is timeless. In another, a Japanese woman grins, showing her stark-white teeth.
“The faces always reflect most of people’s character and somehow we think, we can read about their life in it,” Thormaehlen said. “An old face, with all its lines stimulates people’s minds and they start considering what kind of person they are looking at.”
To emphasize each subject’s individual features, Thormaehlen made sure to home in closely and to rid the images of any background clutter.
“The readers should reflect and compare, and ask themselves what they can do for society if they are around for a few decades after retiring,” Thormaehlen said. “People should lose a bit of their fear about age and aging.”
Check out more images from Aging Gracefully, published by Chronicle Books, below:
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified Thormaehlen’s gender.