This series of portraits took First Place in the series category of the 2021 LensCulture Portrait Awards.

The five men pictured in this series, all over seventy, identify themselves as gay and live in Israel—a land of continuous religious and ideological struggles, where despite progressive reforms in recent decades, LGBTQ+ members are still subjected to legal discrimination, stigmas, and exclusion fueled by influential people and political groups. They agreed to share their stories with me, and over many hours, we talked about aging and dreams, love, exclusion, and fears. Out of these conversations, this series was formed.

Research has shown that elders in the LGBTQ+ community are often more likely to experience loneliness, exclusion, and fear of turning to health and welfare services.

Created collaboratively in a makeshift studio I built in the subjects’ homes, with each portrait, we tried to visually represent a thought, a story, a piece of an inner world: a world that is often kept behind transparent curtains, from the fear of being hurt. We used photography to explore the gap between the constructed and the unexpected, what we think and what we feel, between what we hide, and what is safe to reveal.

— Oded Wagenstein

Mordechai Zilberman (born in 1934) sits for a portrait, dressed in the clothes of his recently deceased partner Aryeh. On the left side of the frame, the hand of Mordechai’s caretaker, Rajoo. Jerusalem. Israel.
Mordechai and Aryeh lived together as a couple for exactly sixty years. When Aryeh’s health deteriorated, and he was hospitalized, they were terrified that they would not be safe at the hospital because they were in a same-sex relationship. It was on Aryeh’s eighty-eighth birthday, exhausted by anxiety and pain, that they decided not to return to the hospital again. Mordechai told Aryeh that he could rest, and, on that night, Aryeh passed away, at their mutual home. Mordechai is often wearing Aryeh’s clothes to feel closer to him.
© Oded Wagenstein
Eze Raymond (born in 1936) sits for a portrait. Tel Aviv, Israel.
Eze was born in Mumbai, lived most of his life in London, and today he lives in Tel Aviv, close to the proud center, where he takes part in weekly meetings and social activities. For many LGBTQ+ elders, these accustomed community-based social activities can reduce the sense of isolation and loneliness and enable community members to pay attention to the well-being of each other. © Oded Wagenstein
Michael (his name was changed) stands for a portrait, holding a parrot. Israel.
Even in his eighth decade, Michael, who is married with children, is still closeted. Coming from a religious family and community, and fearing exclusion, he shared his secret only with a very few. On living in the closet, he said, “It’s like you’re killing a part of yourself. A part of yourself is not alive”. © Oded Wagenstein
Menashe Gadish Dligadish (born in 1946) sits for a portrait. Tel Aviv, Israel.
Dancing has been the center of Menashe’s life for most of his years. He lived in New York as a dancer and producer. But today, due to his health condition, he is unable to dance anymore. Although he has lived outside the closet for years, he often fears not to be accepted, even in places that are supposed to be the safest, like with the GP. “Her attitude might not be as good, or she might not respect me,” he shared. © Oded Wagenstein
Shmuel Anav (born in 1938) sits for a portrait. Jaffa, Israel.
Although born in France before World War II, Shmuel says he does not feel old. But it is the attitude of the younger generation toward him that often reminds him of his age. “They lose, not me. They can learn from me. From my wisdom, my knowledge, my experience. You do not want to? You do have to!”
© Oded Wagenstein