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As Long As We Both Shall Live: Long-Married Couples in America

Robert Fass | United States

Irwin & Evelyn, Chevy Chase, MD (1997) - married 1950

As Long As We Both Shall Live is a documentary project combining formal and environmental portraiture with interview text in an attempt to critically examine the institution of marriage in the United States, its changes and its rapid evolution over the last three generations. By looking at a wide range of marriages whose sole commonality is that they have endured for more than 40 years, this unique, nationwide undertaking reflects the multitude of reasons that couples from an earlier era chose to make a lifelong commitment to their union, sounds them out about the transition marriage has undergone during their lifetime, and provides a touchstone for its audience to examine its own knowledge and assumptions about marriage, intimacy, family, gender roles, and the evolution of cultural and generational values.

All images © Robert Fass

As Long As We Both Shall Live grew out of a portrait session with my parents -- married 47 years -- in the summer of 1997. When my father passed away a few months later, the pictures took on a much greater significance for me. Soon thereafter, another couple asked if I would make a similar portrait of them, and the idea of making a photo essay on the subject of long-married couples was born. Over the next decade, as my time and resources allowed, I travelled all over the United States armed with a Nikon F, a tape recorder and a passion. I met with couples (all of whom were married for at least 40 years) in all manner of ways: people known to me, referrals from friends and colleagues, through community and religious centers, and simply inquiring of couples on the street. In addition to creating the portraits, I began interviewing the subject couples, discussing their history and their outlook on the institution of marriage.

My efforts were rewarded in 2006 when the As Long As We Both Shall Live project received a major exhibition at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, followed by invitations to show and to lecture on my work in major cities in the US and abroad. The project toured Germany and Austria continuously for nearly three years, and excerpts have been featured in such prestigious journals as the final issue of DoubleTake and the Chinese arts & culture monthly, VISIONS. The release of the limited-edition exhibition catalog garnered me appearances on several major television and radio networks. Wonderful as all that was, the greatest gift I received was that this work led me, at age 47, to meet the woman who was to become my wife.

As Long As We Both Shall Live is neither pro- nor anti-marriage. It simply gives honest voice to this wise, witty, profoundly diverse and plain-spoken community of older Americans at a time when the debate over what defines a marriage has reached a fever pitch. Subjects include, among others, an Auschwitz death march escapee and his wife in Ohio; fundamentalist Christians in Texas; and a homosexual priest and his wife of 50 years in Roanoke, VA. I have met with the descendants of Oregon pioneers and Virginia slaves, as well as first generation immigrants from Vietnam, Cuba and elsewhere. Rich or poor, healthy or infirm, from similar or mixed backgrounds, serenely happy or fiercely combative, in love or not; given America’s rapidly changing social values, these couples represent the last generation to look at marriage as an essentially unbreakable bond. The concept of marriage as the fundamental basis of family now stands ripe for re-examination.

Copies of the catalog are available from the project website.

Next Steps
While the project continues to enjoy success and media coverage in certain areas in the US and abroad, it is still my goal to find a sponsoring organization to mount a travelling exhibition in the United States and to publish the entire work (including the full interview texts) in book form. If you are an exhibitor or publisher interested in helping this labor of love to find a larger audience, contact me at robert@longmarriedcouples.com to discuss it and receive a full proposal.

As Long As We Both Shall Live was, from its inception until 2008, part of the Fiscal Sponsorship program of the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) organization. I remain grateful to them for their support during the creation of this project. Learn more about them here.

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