Lionel Jusseret has a lot of experience when it comes to doing photographic series on the invisible, on those people who live on the margins of society. Among his most notable work is a series on so-called autistic children, titled “Kinderszenen,” for which he followed his subjects during a moment of respite in their life: their holidays in the countryside, outside the walls of the institutions where they are often cooped up. In just a few images, he drew a disturbing and human portrait that challenged the preconceived notions associated with autistic youth.
In his book Les impatientes, he turns his attention to day-to-day life in a retirement home and to the women and men born between 1920 and 1945, who are called the silent generation.
“So, how does it feel to be here among all us old people?” Madam Yvonne, one of the residents at the nursing home, asks the photographer.
He was in the cafeteria at the time, and he observed: “Nobody pushes past the others. The doors finally open, the soup is served. The staff in white coats hand out the “elasticized napkins for adults” – which are really just big bibs. Madame Yvonne waves to me and asks me to help her tie her napkin around her neck.” These seniors have lived through World War II, experienced food shortages and worked hard all their lives. “They are described as fatalistic and conventional. This generalist and reductive vision fails to honor these grandmas and grandpas whose world of flowery wallpaper alone echoes our entire childhood.”
This is about a tribute, a tribute to these last years of life, a tribute to the most fragile among us. Nursing homes are one of the few places in life where the one who pays is not the one who makes the decisions. “They changed the seating arrangements at the table;” “People walk into my room several times a day, without asking my permission, without knocking;” “They wash me without even talking to me;” “They dress me without asking me which clothes I want to wear;” “They push my wheelchair without telling me where they’re taking me.” Such are the complaints frequently heard in the nursing home.
Portraits, crucifixes and hair combs, vintage patterns of floral wallpapers and cushion covers: Lionel Jusseret slips in, blends in, becomes himself invisible among these invisibles. Reading his book leads to questions such as: “Are they happy or sad? What are they thinking? What do they dream of?” Sleep is the only thing that appears to soothe them. The photographer is in a state of full osmosis with his subjects, he sublimates them. In one of the images, a game of scrabble is underway. A word is composed and ready to be put on the board: “tear.” A word with a double-word score.