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Retired Vancouver Island reporter battling the stigma of aging

As a recent ‘retiree’ at 66, Don Denton is pushing back against ageism one rock pit at a time
Don Denton still loves shooting live bands, despite describing himself as the oldest guy in the room. (Bob Hanham)

Don Denton, 66, and recent retiree from the magazine/photography department at Black Press is back in the building. But this time, as an interviewee.

Old working comrades gather around him, smiles and laughter abound. Denton jokes about how even still, when he’s out with his wife, he’ll tell her they need to get home by a certain time. She’ll ask him why they’re on such a tight schedule, and he’ll realize he doesn’t know – he’s just so used to working in a deadline atmosphere that life after a 9-to-5 takes some getting used to, he laughs.

But just because Denton is ‘retired’ – though he doesn’t like to call it that – doesn’t mean he’s not hustling and bustling. One of his recent projects was showcasing his punk rock photography in 2023 in New York.

Denton is also facing the stereotypes of aging and coming to grips with them.

“As soon as people hear you’re quitting work after 60, they assume you’re going out to pasture, essentially,” he said. “That you’re no longer going to be creative or give back.”

But Denton is using this time to pursue his passion projects aplenty, “or self-creation, whatever you want to call it.”

“The job here was fabulous. I’m still fully capable of doing the work. But I had these other projects that I really wanted to do. And in the end, we all have limited time to achieve things.”

A couple of times a month, if not a couple of nights in a row, Denton finds himself elated to be back again in a sweaty pit of bodies at a rock concert. It’s a return to his roots as a photographer in the early punk scene (he’s also shot bands like Queen, AC/DC and Bryan Adams).

“Quite often I’m pretty sure I’m the oldest guy in the room, but I can still get in the pit and handle myself in there. I just find it interesting and a challenge,” he said.

His work has grown “somewhat influential in that world,” as Denton says. Apart from the sense of fulfilment that band photography gives him, the punk scene also arguably inspires his defiance towards the stereotypes of aging. For instance, Denton highlights one of hardcore punk’s founding bands, D.O.A., who he has photographed and followed along their 45-plus-year journey.

“There’s one original member left who’s the main songwriter, singer and guitarist: Joe Keithley, who is a year older than me. He went into politics. He’s been a Burnaby council member. He’s in his second term, but he didn’t do that until he was in his 60s. He’s a good example, too, of breaking stereotypes.”

Speaking out against ageism

While aging looks different for everyone, what frustrates Denton is when he sees ageism.

“I really notice it in books,” he said. “It will refer to somebody who’s 62 as elderly.”

“But there’s that saying, age is only in your mind. Which is not entirely true because we’re affected by how our bodies react … I just think that you run into people making assumptions that you are this age so you must be that.”

An example: his friend in her 80s is selling her home up Island and renovating a condo in Oak Bay.

“She’s the kind of person somebody would probably look at and say, ‘Can I help you across the street?’

Denton speaking out against ageism is part of helping society to grow in a healthy way. While ageism can reduce life expectancy and have long-term effects on mental health (according to the World Health Organization), it also downplays positive realities. Take the fact that in an AARP survey with National Geographic, about 2 out of 3 of the oldest adults, age 80 and older, say they’re living their “best possible life” or close to it, compared with just 1 in 5 younger adults.

“Talking about it is always a good thing, I think you just have to show by doing,” Denton said. “If people have certain expectations or stereotypes and they look and see the stereotypes are not there then hopefully they will learn from that. And maybe gently correcting people.”

Photographer Don Denton showcases his punk rock photography accumulated over decades. (Bob Hanham)

The opportunities that open up

When Denton talks about his projects, he has no shortage of a list; selling prints, compiling books (including a photography history project that captures photographers from different generations), building an online presence and teaching Continuing Studies at UVic.

The majority of Continuing Studies students are retired and Denton says it’s a great option for people who want to continue learning and trying new things.

He notes that many retirees are doing things not just as a hobby but also in pursuit of new business ventures.

“I’m looking at guitar lessons with the goal of playing in a band, not just to have a new skill. And I’m learning new layout design software in order to publish books,” Denton said.

‘Retirement’ has also afforded him the time to pursue adventure. At the end of June, he is seeing family in Alberta and tacked on a road trip with his son. The trip concludes with seeing 15 punk bands in one day in Edmonton.

“I wouldn’t be able to do that if I had my job to come back to,” he said.

As Denton navigates this new chapter, he’s reminded that this time can be a springboard for creativity, exploration and personal fulfilment. And, that a healthy sense of defiance towards ageism allows one to embrace the richness that each stage of life has to offer.

Perhaps pop punk band Blink-182 said it best: “My friends say I should act my age. What’s my age again?”

READ ALSO: Canadian society is undergoing ‘rapid aging,’ says Statistics Canada

Don Denton has spent a career in photography and journalism. Since ‘retiring’, some of his latest projects have him confronting negative perceptions of aging. (Lia Crowe)

Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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