Like many love stories, it started with a letter.
Six years ago, Lauren Fleishman discovered a book next to her maternal grandfather’s bed. Inside were a series of love notes. He had written them to her grandmother during the Second World War.
Her grandparents Joseph and Doris Kalish had met on a blind date and married in 1944 in Goldsboro, N.C. They were together 59 years. Other than the basics, Ms. Fleishman didn’t know their story well. But the passionate passages she read from the couple’s early days inspired her to share the enduring love stories of other couples. After all, any romance that lasts for more than 50 years is probably worth talking about.
Ms. Fleishman has photographed couples who have been married for half a century or more for her book “The Lovers,” which will be published in Europe this month.
It’s difficult for the 35-year-old photographer, who is engaged, to imagine having been together that long. (Presumably, this is the case for most people in the first bloom of love.)
Her first subjects, Moe and Tessie Rubenstein, were the grandparents of one of her friends, living not too far from where she grew up in Brooklyn. When she picked up her contact sheet, she knew the project was right for her. Few of the couples she later approached were reluctant to talk. Sometimes, it took her awhile to realize how old they were. “I meet their children, and the children are in their 60s,” she said.
Ms. Fleishman attended seniors’ dances in New York City looking for couples whose faces reminded her of her grandparents. She would take photos and ask for their contact information. After sending them a copy of one of her pictures, she would ask to meet.
Each couple was, of course, different. “But I think the thing that I’ve learned is that love seems to get deeper as you go along,” Ms. Fleishman said.
Yet, she added: “They all had their fair share of compromises. None of them say it’s been a smooth road.”
Some of the stories she heard harked back to an era when prejudice made love risky, if not dangerous.
In England, Jake Jacobs, who is black, married a white woman named Mary (Slide 12). She recounted to Ms. Fleishman that when her future husband asked if it would be possible for them to marry, she responded, “Possible, but not probable.”
When they said “I do,” in 1948, her family disowned her.
During their first date, a waitress asked Eric Marcoux and Eugene Woodworth if they were twins (photo below). The couple, who live in Portland, Ore., kept their love a secret for many years, going as far as to introduce themselves as brothers.
Others didn’t fight for their marriage; they were forced into it. Karam and Kartari Chand have been husband and wife for nearly 90 years, since Dec. 11, 1925 — the date of their arranged marriage (Slide 11). Ms. Fleishman read about them on the Internet and contacted their son. Mr. Chand, who is approaching 110, has seen younger days. But the romance endures.
“My trick is to make Kartari laugh,” he told Ms. Fleishman. “I like to tell jokes and make her smile. Being funny is my way of being romantic. I have been told laughing makes you live longer — my wife is still alive, so it must have worked. I love her, and I want to spend another 80 years by her side.”
Ms. Fleishman, who recently moved to England after spending two years in France, didn’t expect to spend so much time working on “The Lovers.” Nor did she imagine the project taking her so many places. But after having met with around 100 couples from Brooklyn to Belgium, she finds it difficult to pass an old couple on the street without wondering about their love story.
One of Ms. Fleishman’s first projects was about a weight-loss camp for children where she once spent summers, first as camper and later as a counselor. Generally, she seeks stories that have some kind of personal relevance.
With “The Lovers,” she wanted to find a way to connect people. “I think that this is the best that photography can do,” she said.
She thinks of the work not as her personal project, but as a collaboration with her subjects.
“I think photography is a language like anything else, and the more you practice it, the better you are at communicating,” she said. “But I think there’s something to hearing the couples sharing the love story in their own voice.”
Story by Kerri MacDonald from The New York Times