Ah, to be old and not give a fuck. At the turn of the 21st century, then-26-year-old Naomi Harris spent two and a half years immersed in a winter citadel of ancient snowbirds at a South Beach hotel, photographing in indelibly vibrant Kodachrome the radical late-in-life communal libertinism of a generation of American seniors who had had enough, but who also had just enough to live out their last days and let it all hang out.
Harris’ subject is flesh. It droops under giant muumuus and patterned, low-cut, sleeveless polyester and hangs out of compression socks, bikinis, and underwear well past its use-by date. It swells, sags, and wrinkles. By the looks of it, Harris’ “surrogate bubbes and zaydes,” as she calls them—presumably all dead now—couldn’t care less what you think of them. They had each other, pool loungers, that white sand beach, bingo, bridge, the Florida sun, soaps on the tube, fried chicken, and you know what? It wasn’t cold.
Now published as Haddon Hall two decades later, the intimacy on display here can be shocking and slightly disturbing. If, like me, your grandparents were anything like the denizens of the Hall, these images—devoid of all youth—elicit, besides delight, wonder, sadness, and nostalgia, a fair amount of shame. Why did we visit them only once a year? Why were we embarrassed to dance with them in the social hall? Why reject their offerings of healing skin creams and pooh-pooh their terrible taste in food? So what if they smelled funny and farted all the time. If you’re lucky, you might be old one day, too, kid.
Above all, Haddon Hall’s time-capsule quality highlights the lack of true immersive intimacy in our Instagrammed world, where blemishes, edema, leaky faucets, unironic bathing caps, death, tattooed eyebrows, and neglect are shunned in favor of ring-lit aspirational curation whose goal is “likes,” the grubbiest form of judgment. I’d wager that Haddon Hall—judgment-free, anti-kitsch, deftly invasive—could not be shot today: Harris’ subjects might know that the story of their semi-squalid happiness is theirs to tell, and ask her to look away from the dentures in the sink. Or maybe they wouldn’t give a damn. —Matthew Fishbane
Naomi Harris is a photographer. She splits her time between Buffalo and Toronto.