About eight years ago, when I was working in the photo department of Time magazine in New York, my supervisor Nicholas McClelland introduced me to the work of a young photographer named Isadora Kosofsky. She had been working on a project about three senior citizens caught in a love triangle. At the time, the work struck me because it was so intimate and strong, an outsize accomplishment for a young photographer.
I’ve been in the business for about 20 years, and I’ve seen many photographers blow up, get recognized and then fade away. It’s a very difficult business; it’s hard to keep doing work in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles that inevitably pop up. It takes a rare person to keep moving forward, let alone sustain a high level of work. Kosofsky is that rare person. Just recently, the work I was introduced to in 2012 was published in a book called “Senior Love Triangle” (Kehrer Verlag, 2019).
Kosofsky has worked at such a high level for a long time because she’s not here just to do photography. For her, people and relationships come first, the camera and the visual storytelling comes later. That’s because she isn’t trying to do quick hits. She’s in it for the long run.
This is something she has been doing since she was 14, when she was documenting people in hospice care. Of that early, formative time, Kosofsky told me: “When I was 14 and documenting hospice care, I didn’t learn how to be a visual storyteller. I learned how to be with people, how to sit with people in their spectrum of moments — the foundation of being a documentarian.”
This early, invaluable lesson made “Senior Love Triangle” possible. It is a book about three seniors experiencing love. That is the surface level of the book, the purely descriptive part, the part with which many photographers would be content. But it is also much more. It’s a reflection on what makes each and every one of us human beings. We love, we lose, we triumph and we fail. And I hope, if we’re lucky, we do these things with someone by our side. Technology and the electronic promise that we can always be connected aside, humans are social animals and need physical interaction. We need to connect, no matter how young or how old. We need intimacy, no matter the age.
Kosofsky taps into these needs in her book as she follows the lives of Jeanie, Adina and Will. She met this trio while working on another story about a woman named Bianca living in a retirement home. One day, while they were having lunch, Bianca pointed out a woman and said, “That one over there … she’s such a flirt.” The woman Bianca was talking about was Jeanie.
As so many things in life, the way Jeanie, Adina and Will came together is a little complicated. As Kosofsky explains in an afterword to the book, Will was already in a relationship with Adina when he first met Jeanie. He had been living with Adina but was kicked out of her apartment in a retirement home after the authorities found out they were living together. So he moved to another retirement home, where he met Jeanie.
In her afterword, Kosofsky goes into more detail about how the trio formed:
“On his first day at the new retirement community, William fell in love with Jeanie. She was a warm, extroverted actress and mother of four, whom he felt attracted to immediately. … But Will was already in a relationship with another woman — Adina. Since he didn’t want to break off his relationship, Jeanie, Will and Adina formed a trio.”
Kosofsky ended up immersing herself so deeply in their lives that the line between the documentarian and the documented faded. The four of them simply acted like peers, and their relationships went beyond what happened in front of Kosofsky’s lens. The result is a warm portrait of the trio, brimming with humanity and intimacy.
Of working with them, Kosofsky told me: “Out of everyone I have photographed in now half of my lifetime of being a documentarian, Jeanie, Will and Adina were the least concerned about the photography. They were more interested in having me around as a human than as a photographer. I shadowed them longitudinally simply because that is how I work. If you shadow someone’s life experience, why should that documentation end once a part of the story is published? We are all more than a fragment of time in our lives.”
“We are all more than a fragment of time in our lives.” What a stunning and true thought — one that is truly borne out in this book.
As we all know, things don’t last forever. The trio broke apart (and Will has since passed away). When this happened, Kosofsky had begun to turn her focus toward filmmaking, enrolling in the film program at the University of California at Los Angeles. Although Will, Adina and Jeanie had broken up, Kosofsky felt that there was still more to say, “particularly concerning mental health, memory and betrayal.” So from the notes she had meticulously kept while working on “Senior Love Triangle,” Kosofsky and Kelly Blatz, her best friend, made a feature film. The film is being submitted to festivals. You can watch a trailer here.
And you can see more of Kosofsky’s work on her website.
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