Join our mailing list for latest news and features

  • Interests:

Build Hollywood

Build Hollywood

Build Hollywood

Build Hollywood


ONE HUNDRED YEARS Portraits of a community aged 0 – 100

Sometimes bustling urban centres confer anonymity. The rich variety of lived experience is lost in the crowd. Jenny Lewis’ most recent project interrupts the teeming legions of Hackney folk to take, to make, a photographic pause, a moment to reflect.

Lewis started the project with a zero to one hundred grid of ages on her studio wall and over three years proceeded to substitute the numbers with portraits of local individuals. Some subjects came recommended, a couple self-selected, mostly it was a case of Lewis spotting a person she liked the look of and persuading them to take part. And despite her infectious enthusiasm for the project and proven record of making remarkable photographic essays it wasn’t always plain sailing. “Who’d be interested in me?” said Dave (79) on being invited to take part, “Why would anyone want to look at my photograph?”

Alongside a career working as an editorial photographer One Hundred Years is Lewis’ third major personal project following the much admired One Day Young and Hackney Studios. This latest work is reaching the public through various iterations. One Hundred Years is a sumptuous and engrossing book published by Hoxton Mini Press and the entire series has also been installed at Britannia leisure centre in East London. A selection of thirty portraits grace the walls of Shoreditch Park Surgery. On Regent’s canal, behind the Lewis’ studio, seven three metre tall prints can be viewed from the opposite towpath. Lewis said she’d calculated that seventy-two thousand people had walked past these works in the last few months and added “The way you look at them, how you feel about the portraits can change depending on what mood the viewer’s in, what’s going on with the sky that’s enveloping them.”


Words by Adrian Burnham

One Hundred Years, Jenny Lewis - Shoreditch Park Surgery
One Hundred Years, Jenny Lewis - Regents Canal

For the latest Your Space Or Mine outing Lewis has selected 10 photographs – one from each of the decades represented in the project – currently on display in Whitechapel.

The photographer clearly relishes her work appearing in the streets, “Obviously if I was offered a gallery or museum show I wouldn’t say no but it’s important to me and I think suits the work for it to be shared in public spaces. An artist I admire at the moment is JR. Visually, of course, his work is stunning but it’s his engagement with communities that I’m inspired by.”

Lewis always likes to chat with her subjects while taking photographs. Not unlike the Austrian born American photographer Inge Morath who said that a successful portrait ‘catches a moment of stillness within the daily flows of things, when the inside of a person has a chance to come through’. She, like Lewis, took time to cultivate people’s trust before seeking to photograph them mostly in their homes amidst their personal possessions.

The One Hundred Years project goes a step further than presenting subjects visually. After the pictures were taken Lewis recorded participants talking about their lives in more detail. A Covid related hiatus in commissioned work meant Lewis had the time to transcribe recordings of the interviews and then to whittle them down to captivating snippets of oral history: life lessons small and profound, pithy vignettes, choices and personal situations reflected on, the effects of events beyond our control, disappointments and delights.

The sweeping timespan of the project offers intimate insights and a dizzying overview, a century of experience is shared. As Lucy Davies notes in her introduction to Lewis’ book, “Its reach and flow administer a sense of life that is far deeper and richer than could ever be expressed by a single picture. It’s life as only a god might see it: from first to last, incrementally unfolding, like the leathery yawn of an accordion bellows, or one of those time-lapse films that capture the slow rampage of an Alaskan glacier.”

The ten portrait and text pairings selected for YSOM is a fascinating parade. Herb, not yet one, is seen propped in the corner of a plump green sofa. A bud of promise dressed in hand knitted cardi and knickerbockers with a comical vase for company. His eyebrows raised high in wonderment, everything is awesome aged zero years.

Perched on the edge of a desk, Lewis’ next subject is wearing a pleated silver skirt, grungy black and grey tee and a feathery flower in his hair. Jack, only seven, is already having to justify his sartorial preferences.

Iris, twenty, looks younger than her years and betrays some trepidation or at least unease in her eyes as if all of life’s big challenges lay ahead of her. This is confirmed in the accompanying text. The fear of leaving home or, worse still, her mum going back to Brazil which means ‘home’ could soon be leaving her alone in the UK.

At first glance the portrait of Rosy aged 36 seems wryly amusing. She looks into the camera as if she knows something we don’t. It’s not that she dresses her child in a duck themed onesie, we can all see that. Reading her story we look again and can’t help but wonder at the fortitude and tenderness pictured here. Diagnosed with cancer whilst pregnant, the portrait of Rosy becomes one of heartrending resilience in the face of such an unkind fate.

Anka, 42, wears her politics as plainly and proudly as her butch aesthetic. We can imagine the tattoos on her fingers, hand, arms and neck each have a story to tell. Likewise her accessories: gold pinky ring, retro LCD watch, her wristbands, necklaces and mismatched earrings. Her face glowing against a dark background as if traumas have been put behind her.

While most participants are photographed in their homes, 51 year old Sean is pictured standing in an asphalt yard, leaning on a brutalist concrete wall. A block of flats towers in the background. His text relates the ups and downs of acting as a profession but Lewis recalled – as with many of the photographic sessions – taking part in the project spurred many more moving recollections, “Sean hadn’t visited the area for decades but it’s where his life began, it was his childhood playground. He remembered the mums leaning out of windows, looking down on their scrapes, chiding them for being too noisy. This was the place they learnt street wisdom from their older brothers, where they sneaked their first teenage kiss.” Participating in One Hundred Years opened the gates for so many memories.

Eric, 68, exudes a feeling of being comfortable in his own skin. Sunny polo shirt unbuttoned at the neck and bright red braces against a verdant garden background. A relaxed pose and calm expression suggest he isn’t fazed by life’s slings and arrows. His story confirms a zen-like acquiescence. “Death is a friend. It’s a journey and you’re coming to some station point. It’s not something to be frightened of, or walk away from, ignore or deny. Death is a healthy process of life.”

Hyacinth’s vivacity, her infectious laughter reels off her portrait. At 88 even if her all night dancing days are over she still exudes a spirited engagement with life.

Renee concludes the series. Having reached the age that merits a note from the Queen she sits, composed and shrewd. From her statement rings, her open weave pleated chevron pattern scarf, her raised eye and shining white-grey locks. Behind her is a slightly smudged picture of Marylin Monroe, times past. In contrast Renee’s presence is bright, sharp as a pin.


Reflecting on the project Lewis explained how “Peoples’ lives unfolded like the layers of an onion, memories and insights were revealed for the first time it seemed in some instances. Life isn’t linear, we all of us have to be resilient. At one level the project is a witness to, and investigation into mortality. It’s also helped me better figure out who I am and how important it is to reflect, assess and listen carefully to each other but also to yourself, to accept our vulnerabilities and appreciate our strengths.”

There’s one person missing from the above account of ten YSOM portraits on display. Remember Dave? The 79 year old who couldn’t think why anyone would want to take his picture, who didn’t do small talk – he worked a job for twenty-seven-years where he needn’t talk to anyone – and who was initially unwilling to take part in One Hundred Years. Lewis finally contacted him to say the book was out and his portrait was also on show beside Regent’s Canal if he wanted to take a look. He was much too busy he said, as if he didn’t have time for such self-indulgence. But later that same day Dave was seen looking across the water at the images on display. No doubt still too self-deprecating to admire Lewis’ portrait of him but persuaded perhaps that the ‘ordinary’ lives pictured were worth celebrating.

One Hundred Years should be repeated across the land. It’s not just a photographic project but a profound witness to the people we live amongst, who we may not know.

Photo: Matty Bovan Studio

Previous article

Your Space Or Mine

York-based designer Matty Bovan brings his cut-and-paste style to the streets

Next article

Your Space Or Mine

Ben Wilson aka Chewing Gum Man teams up with Your Space Or Mine to paint the town