Keeping Pace: the lives of older women of the East End (Women's Library, 2003) is a beautifully designed (Eggers + Diaper) and produced publication that accompanied the exhibition Keeping Pace Rachel Lichtenstein curated at the Women’s Library in 2003.
Like the exhibition, the book celebrates the lives of elderly East London women through oral testimony, visual art and personal memorabilia including photographs of the women themselves along with images of their treasured possessions and intimate shots of the women's homes (by photographer Lola Flash) providing a powerful visual accompaniment to the text by Rachel Lichtenstein.
The stories inside include those of: an eighty year old Yiddish actress, a Christian philanthropist, a grandmother who lives on an alternative commune and a Bangladeshi political activist. Keeping Pace challenged preconceptions with extraordinary accounts of these remarkable women's lives.
'The use of different media within the exhibition – oral history, photography, artefacts – shows us the lives of these remarkable women in full. Their treasures are laid out in glass cabinets like jewels in the Tower of London. The thrust of Lichtenstein’s exhibition would suggest that instead of looking for gurus or life coaches, we should be seeking out the wisdom that is barely contained in this room.' (The Newstatesman, 2003)
The contribution required from the women taking part in this project was considerable, involving a series of meetings and interviews, photo-shoots and the collection and loan of personal artefacts. Many of the women I intitially approached did not have the energy, time or desire for this kind of involvement. There were others who had to pull out half way through for health or other personal reasons. I remain extremely grateful to all these women and fully understand why some women decided this project was not for them. It is an extraordinarily brave thing to do, to expose your life in a public arena and I have the greatest respect and admiration for the eleven women whose life stories eventually became 'Keeping Pace.'
To find these eleven women I employed a number of different tactics. I approached women directly in fish and chip shops, markets and on the street. I visited care homes, day centres and luncheon clubs. I wrote to bingo halls, churches and community groups. I asked social workers and translators to help me find those harder to reach individuals in the community. After many months of searching and a great deal of help, I finally found eleven willing participants.
Whilst visiting the homes of the women involved I noticed a memorial to their lives existed, wether in the form of a sideboard covered in family photographs, a mantelpiece holding treasured artefacts or even the desk where they worked. These 'shrines' were photographed and displayed alongside the six foot high portraits of the women in their homes.