The Life of Riley, Retired | Kathryn Weinstein, San Francisco

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Kathryn Weinstein is a graphic designer and teaches design courses at Queens College. The Life of Riley, Retired, an on-going project documenting life with her husband, is her first passion project using a camera since graduate school. With The Life of Riley, Retired she is curious if she can interest a young audience with a character that is over 70 without perpetuating stereotypes of aging (ridiculous, pathetic or isolated) and still is relatable to an older audience.

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Guest Blog Post by Kathryn Weinstein:
On April 23, 2017, I launched The Life of Riley, Retired on Instagram as an experiment in adapting the strategies of niche micro-influencers to a character navigating retirement and ageing. In preparation, I studied the visual diaries of New England gentility, surfer gipsies, hipster marathon runners, teenage fashionistas to determine if I could find commonalities. Despite the differences in life-styles, all were young, attractive, and adept photographers who had created visual diaries documenting their lives in instalments, and successfully attracted a loyal base of followers (10-100 thousand strong). I came to believe that the success of these micro-influencers, like successful advertising campaigns, lay within the viewers’ identification/desire to connect with a certain lifestyle presented. 

I wondered if these narratives would arc as their protagonists aged—was their success dependent on linking one sunny moment to the next or could complexities of life be introduced as part of the narrative? Would their audience abandon them for younger stars if they begin to show signs of middle age, or would audience and protagonist grow old together? And what do young people think of ageing if they are immersed in a sea of imagery celebrating youth? Where were the visual diaries of older people on Instagram, and is the scarcity a reflection of the demographics of Instagram users (54% are 29 or younger, only 16% are older than 50), or as a culture do we shun representations of ageing that do not reiterate stereotypes?

So with a goal, but no roadmap, I immersed myself into the world of Instagram. These are the challenges that I listed when I started the project:

  1. Could I create a coherent visual narrative that strangers would want to follow?
  2. Could I pique interest within a young audience if my main character is 74 years old without perpetuating stereotypes of ageing (ridiculous, pathetic or isolated) and still be relatable to an older audience? Can the story of ageing be a nuanced adventure, open & expensive?

Have I met these challenges? I’ll keep you posted. 

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