‘I Used To Be You’: How one not-old woman will find immortality in print

by Dave Etchells

posted Thursday, June 4, 2015 at 6:50 PM EDT

Here’s a happy story: an old woman who doesn’t exist is going to find immortality on the printed page.

Born of her own musings on age and change, and fueled by the discovery of her first grey hair, the loss of her dad, changes around her and her volunteer work with the elderly, photographer Kyoko Hamada has created “Kikuchiyo-san”, an alter ego of herself, maybe 40 years hence. She photographed Kikuchiyo-san both at home and out in the world, in a beautiful, thoughtful series of images, calling the project I Used To Be You.

I’m not sure how I first came across the project -- I might have just bumped into it when I randomly hit the Kickstarter site recently. (I don’t often go there, but should obviously do so more regularly.)

Immediately, something about the project really appealed to me, although I have a hard time expressing what it is that I connected with so strongly.

Perhaps it’s that I’m now of a “certain age,” and more aware than ever of my own mortality. Some of that might have to do with breaking my foot badly at the end of a trip to Japan in February of 2014, and having to deal with only just now being close to walking normally again. (Another 6 months should do the trick…) So the experience of being disabled and healing slowly is very much on my mind.

It also struck me how differently we tend to view people who are old and perhaps infirm. It’s easy to forget that “they used to be me” … or possibly much more than me. Utterly amazing people get old, too. They’re still utterly amazing, they just don’t have the glow of youth about them any more, don’t look “amazing” by current, youth-obsessed societal standards.

Then there’s the matter of accumulated wisdom. I sadly (and sometimes tragically) fail to act on it at times, but I have to say I’m a lot wiser than I was 10 years ago, and a lot wiser than I was 30 years back. Some cultures are much better at recognizing the value of decades of experience at life than we are here in the US.

I think the Japanese culture is generally much better at this than we are, but my sense is that even there, there’s been some slippage over time. Here in the US, the tendency is for people to be separated by many miles as we each go our own way, and the trend towards having children later and later in life means there’s not as much opportunity for each current generation to see their parents treating their parents with respect. It seems like a condition fated to devolve further.

So, all of the above contributed to my appreciation of what Kyoko Hamada created in the person of Kikuchiyo-san. They’re also beautiful photographs; Kyoko san is a truly gifted photographer.

I Used To Be You has already surpassed its $10,000 goal, with three days left to go -- plenty of time to make a pledge and contribute to Kyoko’s project. I have already secured my pledge for a book and hope you find the desire to do so as well!


PS: Kyoko also did a very thoughtful piece on the Fukushima disaster for The New Yorker. Her narration of a selection of the photos is interesting and moving:

PPS: We had initially planned to post this in late May, when the project was still well below its funding goal. Unfortunately, an email mixup caused it to fall through the cracks until today. That said, we’re happy to see Kyoko’s project get funded - but still encourage all our readers to support her beautiful project!