Ari Seth Cohen, the New York-based writer and photographer, remembers the very first photo he took for what would become his new book of photography, “Advanced Love.”
“I was flying out to San Francisco to meet this couple Mort and Ginny,” he says. “I’d just had a tiff with my partner, which was my first real relationship. So I was in a sour mood.”
But then he arrived at Mort and Ginny’s house, and the pair walked out hand in hand. They showed him the dozens of trees and sidewalks in their neighborhood where they’d carved their heart-shaped initials and told him stories about their endless devotion.
“Mort said he misses Ginny even when she goes to the post office or her knitting group,” says Cohen, 37. “They’d been together for over 60 years and couldn’t imagine life without each other.”
Cohen returned home feeling changed, both personally and professionally. “Every time things with my partner get bumpy, I think about Mort and Ginny and their wisdom and how true love really isn’t that complicated,” he says. “So it helped me in my own relationship. But it also made me think, I want to explore more of this. I want to find more couples like them, and see what love looks like as you get older.”
Photographing older adults is nothing new for Cohen. Since 2008, he’s run the street style blog Advanced Style, devoted to “capturing the sartorial savvy of the senior set.” It was inspired in part by his late and beloved grandmother, who told Cohen when he was a child that he should move to New York if he wanted to be creative. The blog led to two bestselling books, 2012’s “Advanced Style” and 2016’s “Advanced Style: Older & Wiser,” and a documentary.
But after meeting Mort and Ginny in 2015, Cohen decided to take his senior photography in a different direction. He began seeking out couples, traveling across the globe to 30 different cities — from Berlin, Germany, to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico — to find people whose relationships proved “there’s no time limit for falling in love,” he says.
The book, available now from Abrams, documents 60 different elder couples in both photographs and conversation. His subjects range from interracial couples to same-sex couples to widowers who found true love for a second time. Their stories can be both hilarious and heartbreaking, hopeful and uncomfortable.
“With so many of them, they’ve had to acknowledge the fact that love is imperfect,” Cohen says. “After so many years together, you find ways to coexist and continue to learn from one another. Everyone has a very different way of balancing out being in a relationship for that long.”
His photos introduce us to couples like Delores and Ben from Los Angeles, whose main rule is “We don’t yell at each other unless the house is on fire,” and Tutti and Paul from Sydney, Australia, whose relationship survived a mid-life crisis which taught them that love is “not all kittens and rainbows. There are soaring highs and crushing lows, and plenty of… therapy.”
One of Cohen’s favorite couples to photograph was Evita and Hans, who met at a California retirement community after their respective spouses passed away. “She’s 94 and he’s in his late 80s,” Cohen says, “And they’re incredibly active. She takes him on air balloon rides and zip lines and skydiving.”
Months after the photo shoot, Cohen bumped into the couple again in Palm Springs, Calif.
“They’d just arrived that day, after a 10-hour car trip and they were out drinking,” Cohen says. “It was 10:30 at night and I was ready for bed, but these two were on their third cocktail and just getting warmed up.”
It gives him hope, Cohen says. “It’s something we can all strive for. Who doesn’t want to grow old and still be in a relationship like that?”
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