March 05

Roy of the Savoy

It’s funny, we all take many photographs of our children, from when they are born and on as they grow up throughout their childhood, and general family life, however, we rarely photograph the other end of one persons’ life. By this is mean no one thinks to photographing their grandparents or parents when they reach their 70’s plus. Then, when they pass on up to heaven, there are often very few photos to show who they really where in their later years.

So, I thought I will shoot a day in a life of an 84 year called Roy. He is life’s most charismatic characters.

He was a barman, in the America Bar, at the Savoy Hotel for almost 50 years. Roy joined the Savoy as a dish washer in 1946 and worked his way up. In his life, he has danced with Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe among other leading ladies of the past century.

I met Roy in a supermarket, the fabulous Morrisons, where he went daily for company and conversation with other “regulars”.

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With the demise of the village shops, like the butchers or the grocers, many older people, who were used to meeting each other in these places, are now alone most of the week, some even for weeks on end. So, the supermarket or the shopping mall, for the ones who luckily live next to one, becomes a local “village meeting point” for gossip and friendship.

So, after a few words with Roy of the Savoy, I helped him home and we had tea and McVitie’s.

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I spent the following day with him from when he was asleep on the sofa at 9 AM to going back to bed.

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Taking pictures is easy, however, to capture that 10% ingredient that hopefully makes an essay of someone, is not quite so easy. So, while you can shoot the obvious photos, you do have to kind of set a few pictures up.

I try to shoot the daily things that happen in a person’s life, not the pictures we may normally photograph. Sometimes they are the almost private moments, perhaps we could call them bathroom moments, or secret rituals most of us have.

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Roy has a terrible skin condition, eczema, so he has very dry skin on his face and body. I noticed he is constantly scratching himself so I asked if it’s OK to shoot these moments when he scratched. Again, if you do something different, then another opportunity will open. Roy, like most fabulous oldies had false teeth. Sadly, this part of old age will come to us all. That’s life.

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When I shot him taking his teeth out, I got a great picture without his teeth in because I engaged with him and said:

‘Roy, you playboy, flex your muscles.’

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It’s always a good picture to shoot oldies flexing their muscles because it makes them laugh out loud.

That day, we also went driving, as it reminded him of his youth, and shopping with Roy.

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I also captured his tea making ritual. He always broke up 3 biscuits into three. It’s good to shoot this from above, as the pictures will look a bit different.

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In the space of 9-10 hours, you have to try and shoot every situation possible. It’s what Roy does daily and soon this last part of his life will sadly be gone forever. As we all do, Roy will sadly go to heaven too.

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So, if you are reading this and have a grandparent or know a fabulous oldie, go and document them NOW, not next week. I say this because after I photographed him, he broke his hip and was in the hospital for 8 weeks. His dementia accelerated due to lack of brain usage.

8 weeks later, Roy was unable to walk and was sent to a care home. 12 weeks after that, his house was put up for sale and its contents cleared out.

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Roy’s 45 year life in Appledone Crescent was gone. Every trace of Roy vanished.

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So, these pictures are now a time capsule of this man’s life.

You will be pleased to know Roy is now as happy as ever in a care home by the sea, in Eastbourne. Only 4 weeks ago I shot a day in Roy’s life at the nursing home and it was a very different Roy than the one who lived at home in his own little paradise. However, he’s still making all the ladies laugh. I will feature the photos soon.

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I have now made a book with the pictures I took of Roy called “The Day in a Life of Roy Burke” to celebrate this wonderful-amazing person.

I hope this story has inspired you to think you will go out and shoot a day in the life of a fabulous oldie that you may know. Maybe a neighbor who is alone.

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I believe everyone must document their elderly family members as I have done with Roy, as it is a wonderful heirloom, a testament to that person and how they lived and touched our lives. It shows you so much more about them, sometimes aspects of their life that you never took time to consider. It’s always nice to have as many special memories of a person  that you love.

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