Five years ago the American photographer Lauren Fleishman began a project photographing couples who had been married for more than fifty years. This touching portraiture series was born out of the death of Fleishman’s grandfather, who had kept a book by his bedside of important birthday and anniversary dates. Upon his passing, Fleishman found a number of love letters written to her grandmother from her husband during the second World War tucked between the pages of this book. “I read the letters and thought about the importance of histories,” Fleishman says. “I wanted to work on a project where I could almost save these histories.”
Although Fleishman trained as a photographer, this project additionally saw her taking on the roles of an interviewer and an archivist, as she recorded the oral histories of her subjects alongside their portraits. “I tell the couples, ‘I’m taking the photograph but you are writing your love story,’” she says. “And a lot of the things that they’re talking about, I get the impression that they haven’t thought of these things in years.” What results from this interactive, in depth and personal working process is a photographic series of “love letters” that document and celebrate the years these couples have spent together, and the memories they have created in that time. Fleishman originally began the project with the intention of better understanding the one secret and rule for a long lasting relationship, something her couples all seemed to know. “I thought that there would be one common thread that kept them all together all these years,” she says. “There really isn’t. Everybody is just so different.”
You really don’t think about getting older. First of all, you’re aging together and when you see a person constantly you don’t notice big changes. Like you don’t notice, oh you’re getting a little wrinkle here and tomorrow you say oh it’s a little deeper. No those are things that just happen. You dont pay attention to those things. You dont realize it.. really . You dont realize that you’re.. I mean I’m not thinking everyday, oh my husbands 83 years old he’s gonna be 84. Oh my goodness, I’m married to an old man. And I hope he feels that way too. —Angie Terranova, Staten Island, New York.
We met each other at a dancing party. It was January 1938. My friend invited me to the party. He said there were a lot of beautiful young girls. Another cadet with high boots had approached her but she didn’t like high boots and so she said no to him. I was the second one to approach her, I had a different uniform, but I’m still not sure if it was my uniform or my face that attracted her to me.
—Yevgeniy Kissin, Midwood, Brooklyn.
We knew each other before the war but we never spoke. He was with other girls because he was much, much older than me. You know he was very nice looking! He was a tailor and he had a place where he made suits for men. When we came back from the war he had gone to my sisters house. I was staying with her. In August of this year we will have been married 63 years. I would say love came little by little. Not right away. We were young and he was older but I liked him. He spoke to me in a very nice way.
—Golda Pollac, Mill Basin, Brooklyn.
I was having a problem in school because I had to write a music paper and I had never written anything about music. It was my mother who had suggested that I go see David because he knew so much about music. So I went over and I thought maybe he would write it for me! But he said no, I’ll help you but you have to write it yourself. He always had very high standards. After we wrote the paper together he asked me to go to a party with some of his army friends. You know, I had never thought of him romantically! He looked at me the way a man who has just come out of the army would look at a sexy woman.
—Sheila Newman, Flatlands, Brooklyn.
I was the kind of girl that fell in love right away. So the next day I would tell my friend, terrific, I’m in love already! But after my first date with Sol I did not feel that way. I think it only proved to this day that you can’t judge right away. It may not work out but as you get to know a person love comes.
—Gloria Holtzman, Midwood, Brooklyn.
And my favourite couple:
What is the secret to love? A secret is a secret and I don’t reveal my secrets!
—Ykov Shapirshteyn, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.
To learn more about Lauren Fleishman and her photographic projects, visit her website here.