Ulmer, art, inspiration, photography, Candace Karch

Living in the Moment

Our idea of old age seems to shift as our own life moves forward along the timeline. When I was a child, even children just a couple of years older seemed much more mature. Not to mention my parents who were like fossils from some bygone era. But as you grow older, your perception of the concept shifts. This is a natural process, but sadly one that is out of sync with our time’s obsession with youthfulness. That is why it  is so wonderful to see the photographic series ‘Ms. Ulmer’ by Candace Karch.

The two women became friends in 2007 after Ms. Ulmer had a show at Karch’s Bambi gallery in Philadelphia. In the years that followed, Karch was able to get close to centenarian Marie Ulmer and document her daily life. When looking at the series, you can see how their intimacy evolves in front of the lens. As Karch gets closer to her subject, you can also witness the emergence of what she calls Ulmer’s alter-ego, a “part of her personality she never explored”. It is easy to see why the photographer has become enchanted with this spunky old lady. Throughout their photographic journey, Ulmer has become the photographer’s muse.

Could the attraction have anything to do with the fact the Ms. Ulmer has created art for the last 90 years? That by doing something that she truly loves – painting, drawing, illustrating, creating – she has found the secret to growing old gracefully? There is no doubt Ulmer is very old indeed, the photos do not hide this fact. We see her around her home using a magnifying glass to read, her back is bent and reveals a constellation of freckles and liver spots and her hairdryer seems too heavy for her to handle. Yet there she is – with a mischievous look in her eye – very much a young girl with her fake tattoo as she takes a bite from an apple, or wearing a balaclava as she smells some flowers. 

This is a woman of experience living in the moment, enjoying the attention and company of another human being as the photographer bears witness to nearly a century of wisdom. Karch plans to do a book of their journey together, combining her photographs with Ulmer’s self-portraits (the earliest done when Ulmer was only seven). 


Irish playright George Bernard Shaw once said: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”. Good advice on any given day, but when I look at these photos of the centenarian bohemian artist Ms. Ulmer, I can really see the truth in those wise words. 

All images © Candace Karch
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More cool grandma’s: Baddiewinkle