Age Before Beauty

Al Reclining

Al Reclining

Albert Venters or simply Al, as he prefers, was born in Lindsay, Ontario in 1923.

During World War II, he served in the RCAF as an aircraft mechanic with the rank of LAC (Leading Air Craftsman). As with any true veteran, he holds onto his medals which are the physical embodiment of promises, sacrifices and duties he fulfilled when our planet was in turmoil and was threatened with certain destruction by Hitler. Al was assigned to the 427th (Lion) and 429th (Bison) Squadrons from June 1944 to January 17, 1946 and serviced Mk-I and Mk-III Avro Lancaster Bombers while stationed at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire, England. Those birds would not have flown and did the jobs they did without guys like Al. He’s told me some airfield horror stories that I can see still shake him.

It was in England where Al met his future wife Jess.

After the war he did various construction and labour jobs, eventually becoming a Stelco steelworker in Hamilton, and brought Jess to Canada from Scotland. He and Jess lived in the city of Burlington near Oakville for many years before finally selling their house and moving to the Ainslie Wood West neighbourhood. These are people who have seen many changes in the world.

Al is a joker. He can drop one-liners, and tell believable but completely foolhardy stories like a precision machine operating on automatic. He’s got an infectious laugh and a big grin. As he got on in years, he progressively became deaf and legally blind. For the former he has hearing aids but there’s nothing that can be done for his severely diminished vision. He has never been able to come to terms with his blindness. Its hell being a man who has a lot of living to do while his body is slowly shutting down on him but when in the right company he can still muster up a good and completely original wisecrack.

Conversations with Al can also be thought provoking. I’ve known him to often recall memories of birding, enjoying nature photography, cherished experiences and lessons learned through military service, witnessing steel workers, union reps and their bosses abusing each other with impunity, raising two dearly loved children and drinking with old pals.

I’m very impressed with this everyman. He’s a real Hamiltonian. He never became famous or acquired the daily exercised power to affect the fates of many. He just tried to get the most out of life while being careful to not step on anyone in the process. It’s a privilege to have photographed him like this.

Al allowed me to shoot him before this picture but I was never satisfied with those images. He deliberately and patiently posed for me in those, even when he was in McMaster hospital dealing with trouble from his aged heart, but as much as I like posed images, I prefer candids the most. I composed this honest character revealing portrait when he was just being his relaxed self in his den one week before Christmas of 2009. He looks like a tough old guy revealing his rarely seen graceful side.


14 thoughts on “Age Before Beauty

  1. It was a nice picture of him and I like the little duck who seems to look at him curious.
    It is sad to read that his eyesight deteriorated. Because I think it’s the worst thing you can lose and extra tough when you lose sight when you are old.

  2. A nice portrait of Al. He seems very relaxed here, but you can also feel the energy that at least once was in hi,. And I agree with Antonia, the duck seemingly sitting on Al’s stomach adds a nice touch to the image.

    • Thank you.

      As I had told someone else; I can’t even remember what we were talking about during that hour. Al knew I had my camera on me; in fact I had been carrying it all day, but I guess with me interracting with him for so long that late evening with the cam just resting hands-free on my lap, he let his guard down after a while. I saw him suddenly recline in that chair with a gently ease; his foot automatically coming up. It was like an impulse to raise the lense and pop the shutter just as he settled into that position.

  3. UPDATE: Al passed away on January 29, 2015. Although his health and mental faculties were deteriorating rapidly, he made it past his 91st birthday.

    Before he passed peacefully in his sleep, he was alert enough to tell Jess that he loves her. They had been together since the end of WWII, and shared a wonderful loving life in all those years.

    I will always think of Al as forever enjoying a flight on the spirit of an old Lancaster that he must have serviced. He’ll fly solo until he and Jess are reunited.

    All the best to you, Al.

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