While on assignment in 2007 to photograph a story about experimental anti-aging treatments, Angela Jimenez learned about an upcoming USATF Masters track and field meet about to take place in Kentucky.
The meet, one of many on the USATF Masters schedule, is intended for athletes ages 35 and up, broken down into categories of five-year increments. Jimenez, a former Division 1 college track and field heptathlete at the University of Pennsylvania was intrigued and decided to head to Kentucky to photograph the meet, essentially beginning her project “Racing Age,” which focuses on retirement age athletes in their 70s and up.
“When I got there, it sort of took my breath away,” she said. “It is rare to find a scene, or a subject that is not self-conscious, that is just sort of pure and true. That is how it seemed.”
Jimenez began to pitch stories about that meet and others to various outlets including Getty Images and the New York Times. Due to assignment deadlines, she shot most of the work in color using a DSLR. She said that black-and-white photography is her first language, one she crafted while at school at the University of Missouri–Columbia School of Journalism, and one she used for “Racing Age.”
She was also influenced by Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympic imagery, “despite the abhorrent politics of them” and said the point of her series is to convey an honest account of serious athletes.
“These athletes are not simple or cute: They are fierce and competitive,” she said. It can actually be a bit scary to watch—it’s not what you are used to seeing an older person do.”
With a nod to many of the septuagenarian (and older) track and field athletes she photographs, Jimenez documents them on an older, somewhat clunky Hasselblad film camera.
“I thought of the more mechanical technology and the black-and-white imagery as a metaphor,” she said about her work. “I will give myself a slower and older body to work with. That is what the athletes are working with, too.”
She lugged around the heavy camera from 2007–10, with no internal light meter and 12 frame rolls of film, shooting without an assistant. She says it “is like shooting pictures with a toaster.”
Jimenez likes to connect and travel with subcultures (one of her previous series focused on same-sex ballroom dancing) and decided to include a mix of both portraiture and action for the series that took her around the United States and to Italy. The portraiture acted as an icebreaker when meeting her subjects and also as an introduction between the viewer and the participants into their world of competition. As someone who understand track and field, she enjoyed how the actions serve as a measuring stick—almost literally—of the abilities of the human body: How fast can you run, how far can you jump or throw, how high can you jump, etc.
“The records in each age group are like a record of what aging bodies can do. We are living longer and getting stronger and faster. So I wanted to get those peak moments, like the long jumper at the top of his jump arc. I mean, wow.”
Jimenez said she felt she was finished with the project in 2010 but continues to come back to it, partly because her father had Parkinson’s and she watched his body deteriorate from both the disease and a brain tumor last year.
“I want to replace that imagery in my head,” she said. “He really loved those photographs.”