Lauren Fleishman: The Lovers looks at couples who have been together more than fifty years (PHOTOS).

The Secret to Love, From Couples Who Have Lasted More Than 50 Years Together

The Secret to Love, From Couples Who Have Lasted More Than 50 Years Together

Behold
The Photo Blog
April 15 2015 9:00 AM

The Secret to Love, From Couples Who Have Lasted More Than 50 Years Together

The Lovers
Jake and Mary Jacobs. Married on April 27, 1948. Mary: Jake said to me, “Would it ever be possible for me to marry you?” And I said, “Possible but not probable!” And that’s how it was. It wasn’t likely that I would ever marry him, and he knew that. So when he went home to Trinidad, my mother and father breathed a sigh of relief. But he used to write, and he said, “I'm thinking I might come back to England.”

Lauren Fleishman

When Lauren Fleishman’s grandfather, her last surviving grandparent, passed away seven years ago, she felt a sadness knowing she was no longer anyone’s granddaughter.

Around that time she also discovered a box of love letters next to his bed that he had written to her grandmother during World War II. It provided Fleishman with an epistolary connection to her grandfather, one that would shape a six-year project that focuses on couples who have been together for more than 50 years, now a book published by Schilt titled The Lovers.

“I think it’s the type of project that doesn’t only appeal to a photo-based community,” Fleishman said. “Part of it is that the couples are accessible; people can see their parents or grandparents in the images.”

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That’s exactly what Fleishman looked for when she began working on The Lovers. The first image she took was of her friend’s grandparents, but she then began to visit senior dances looking out for couples whose faces reminded her of her grandparents. She would then approach the couples, ask to take their photographs, send them prints, and hope they would agree to be part of the series. From there, Fleishman would spend about an hour interviewing each couple and shooting their portrait with only two rolls of medium-format film.

The Lovers
Yevgeniy and Lyubov Kissin. Married on June 29, 1941. Yevgeniy: We met at a dancing party. It was in January 1938. My friend invited me to the party. He said there would be a lot of beautiful young girls. Another cadet with high boots had approached her, but she didn’t like high boots and so she said no to him. I was the second one to approach her. I had a different uniform, but I’m still not sure if it was my uniform or my face that attracted her to me.

Lauren Fleishman

Dick Dehn and Gary Payne
Dick Dehn and Gary Payne. Together since Sept. 2, 1957. Dick: We’ve been together 56 years. A couple of times I’ve thought, yes, I’ve known him longer than I knew my mother. And my mother died in the early ’80s. I've known him, and he’s known me longer than anybody else on this earth. I never regretted it. I don't know just exactly what love is, but he was the person that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and we have.

Lauren Fleishman

The Lovers
David and Sheila Newman. Married on April 12, 1957. Sheila: David always supported any interests I had. He supported me with whatever I did, told me I should do the best I can. And I was anti-intellectual when I married him. I got to love music because he practiced a lot and I listened to him and he explained everything. We really changed, we enriched each other’s lives.

Lauren Fleishman

“The couples write their own love stories through the recorded interview,” Fleishman said. “So I do give the couples a voice, which is one reason I enjoy working on this project so much, because it is a collaborative process.”

She limited the amount of film used on the series because, as an editorial and commercial photographer, she is used to shooting a high volume of digital images and wanted to slow down and be more deliberate with this series. Regardless of the parameters, once it came time to edit the book, Fleishman was overwhelmed and surprised by the amount of work she had created both in the United States and Europe.

“As I was going through everything, I thought, Wow, this is an insane amount of work,” Fleishman laughed. “I didn’t realize it while I was working because I enjoyed it so much.”

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“Working as a photographer in this industry is so difficult. You really have to love it and find a way to make it work for you because it is so tough.”

Sol and Gloria Holtzman
Sol and Gloria Holtzman. Married on Jan. 16, 1954. Gloria: I was the kind of girl that I fell in love right away. So the next day, I would tell my friend, “Terrific, I mean, I’m in love already.” But after the first date with Sol, I did not feel that way. I told my friend, “No, he was very nice. We had a good time, but that was it.” She was the one that came back with the statement, “I bet this is the guy you’re gonna end up marrying!”

Lauren Fleishman

Although she was attracted to photography as a child, Fleishman said that she first realized the power of photography when she was 22 years old on assignment in the Midwest for the New York Times Magazine to photograph an Amish boy. For the Brooklyn native who currently resides in England, it felt like a very fortunate opportunity.

“It was the most incredible experience for me,” she said. “When I got back to New York I felt so lucky to have been able to have seen that and to have met him; I’ll never forget that feeling. I knew I was lucky to have experienced that.”

It’s a similar emotion to what she felt while creating The Lovers. She said many of the couples—both heterosexual and homosexual—were very open and shared a lot about their lives and how they had been able to stay together for as long as they had. Many said they couldn't imagine life without the other one and that their love had grown deeper over the years. 

“The thing I learned is relationships take work, whether you’re one year in or 20 or 30 or 60 years, they all take work,” she said. “I do think about the book and how it will appear in 20 or 30 years. They all said during their day, divorce just wasn’t that common and some of them said they had thought about divorce, but they worked through it. Today it is maybe more acceptable to walk away than it was back then … for whatever reason they decided to stay with it.”

The Lovers
Yaakov and Mariya Shapirshetyn. Married on July 6, 1949. Yaakov: What is the secret to love? A secret is a secret, and I don’t reveal my secrets.

Lauren Fleishman

The Lovers
Joseph and Dorothy Bolotin. Married on June 16, 1938. Dorothy: In June we will have been married for 74 years. I never think of it in terms of years. I think of it in terms of good years. In love, hot romance doesn’t last forever. So I would say that yes, I think love changes.

Lauren Fleishman

David Rosenberg is the editor of Slate’s Behold blog. He has worked as a photo editor for 15 years and is a tennis junkie. Follow him on Twitter.