Why I love photographing women over 40.

I love photographing women over 40. They bring such beautiful energy to the process.

I instinctively know a lot about the psychology of photography.  This juicy TedX talk by a photographer and a psychologist really nailed some key issues we portrait photographers face.  I have lived it for over 2 decades as woman and as a professional photographer, primarily of women. Do you "Own it", "Pose", "Diminish" or "Avoid/Run" (in life, and in front of the camera)?   What a great observation by Peter Hurley!   I have worked with ALL of these types of clients over the last two decades.   Now I prefer to work with people who are really ready to "own it"....because my life is too short, and these are the people I can help most. If you are afraid to really see yourself, warts and all,  you will probably not like what I show you.  I am very good at getting to the heart of people, and exposing something deeper.
One of the reasons I now love photographing women over 40 is that they have come through the other side of this issue of self-acceptance. They are ready to own it.

I know what it feels  like to be 20-something with a warped self-image, always comparing myself and falling up short. It didn't help that I worked in the fashion photography business with gorgeous models on a daily basis.  At 5’6” and 120 lbs, I was always the shorter, fatter woman in the room by comparison.  

I have met so few women in their 20s who are truly comfortable in their own skins. Even many of my model friends back then were deeply insecure about how they looked....just like the Miss Universe in this TedX.....because imagine a life where every job you apply for (and you apply almost daily for jobs) involves sitting in a room of stunningly beautiful women...and sometimes the client just wants a redhead instead of a brunette...and it isn't really about you....but that isn't how it feels in the moment.  Most young women, if they are honest, find that "it's not about you" idea hard to understand. Thank goodness we can grow out of this stage.

Surprisingly (or maybe not), I find that women over 40  are so much more loving and accepting of themselves. They have bridged this "gap of self acceptance" Peter Hurley refers to. They bring confidence, not a mask, to the experience of being photographed because they WANT to see themselves as the world sees them, as I see them. They WANT that authenticity. They dislike the gimmicks, the excessive retouching, the excessive makeup....the "tricks" of the commercial fashion photography trade.  They want to look beautiful, yes, but they want to look REAL even more.

I love how so many women over 40 have baggage they are not ashamed to carry. I appreciate the way they show up and seem to say "This is my baggage. I am ok with it. But I'd prefer if you could just crop it out of the frame, or put it in the corner while we shoot" And we laugh knowingly....and get on with the work of making beautiful images.  They show up for themselves, as themselves.  I love that.

Of course, for women, a lot of this growth happens in our 30s.....I call it the transition decade.....the decade where we grow into our strength and power.  For some it happens earlier. For some it happens later.  Because none of this is really about age. All of this is about emotional growth and self acceptance.  And from that place, we find our real radiance....because it comes from within, not from some external source.  There can be no 'external validation' if we don't believe in the beauty within.  A pretty picture is meaningless if we feel ugly or unworthy.  So we may criticize the picture, but what we really don't love starts in a deeper place. (Unless it is just a bad picture...and of course we all have plenty of those...different issue...)

Anna says, "The larger the gap between who we think we are, and who we think we should be, the more likely well feel badly in front of the camera....the lens becomes an extension of our own harshest critic, ourselves"  I agree, and I wish I could help people close this gap, but I am afraid it is an inside job.  I can certainly help, because I have always tended to see the best in people.  I see radiant beings, even if they are covered in mud.  The uncovering takes time.  I know.  I have been there.  A good photograph can be a wonderful reflection of who we are, and where we are in our personal evolution.  Photography is not magic.  It is a collaboration between two people and when they are in sync, the results can look magical. When the subject and photographer are not in sync, someone, and possibly everyone,  will be unhappy.

Now I prefer to work with people who approach life and being photographed ready to 'own it'.  These people are in my tribe. A lot of people aren't really ready for this level of exposure. They want to look 'perfect', whatever that means.   So I tend not to work with those people, because I believe imperfection is what makes us awesome, and deeply beautiful.

PS: If you follow my blog or FB page, you know I have been photographing Malala Yousafzai for the last year more or less.  She is not over 40.  In fact, she is probably the most photographed 17 year old on earth.  And she is wonderfully comfortable in her own skin...more than most women at any age.  She brings her full self to every photograph.  She never runs, avoids, or hides.  She knows her value and her mission, which come from a deeper place than her image.  But then, you knew this post was never entirely about age, right?

Youngest Ever Nobel Peace Prize WInner: Malala Yousafzai


I couldn't be more thrilled for this wonderful young woman. She is a true role model who works so hard for others and has done so much already.

At 17, she is the youngest winner ever of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Congratulations, Malala, on this incredible achievement. I know it will encourage you to work even harder on behalf of young people and their right to an education all over the world.

What I love as well is that the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize this year was an Indian man, Kailash Satyarthi.  Even the Nobel Committee emphasized the point: "The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism," said Thorbjoern Jagland, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

I couldn't agree more!  How insightful of the Nobel Committee to make a choice like this.

Portrait of Malala, then 16, in a classroom in the Masai Mara region of Kenya. May 2014 © Tanya Malott

 I am so honored that I have been asked to photograph Malala and the Malala Fund team in action on several occasions this year.
Visiting Syrian refugee children in Jordan

Above and below are photos of Malala and the Malala Fund in action that I made on two different trips with them this year.  She does this work on her school breaks, and she brings her homework with her!

On this trip to the Masai Mara, Malala and the Malala Fund visited several schools created by Free the Children 

Marianne Williamson and Rickie Byars Beckwith at the United Palace House of Inspiration

The United Palace House of Inspiration surprised me.  I went to see Marianne Williamson speak, but I left with so much more.  Nothing short of inspiration.

We walked in dancing.  It was hard not to.  The beautiful choir had half the audience standing and dancing in this beautiful old 1917 auditorium.  I arrived with Annette, and Cati met us inside.  We had no idea what to expect, and walked away energized and dazzled by the Bishop Xavier Eikerenkoetter (son of "Reverend Ike"),  mezmerized by the voice of Rickie Byars Beckwith, and just in awe of Marianne Williamson.  It happened to also be the 50th birthday of the Bishop Xavier's beautiful wife, Annette (funny synchronicity) and the 47th anniversary of the UPHI. We couldn't have picked a better day.

Our adventure started with a little notice I saw on Facebook about Marianne Williamson speaking in New York.  I wanted to hear her live and in person, because I was thinking I would like to photograph her for a project I am just beginning, and I needed to feel her presence for myself.  I invited Annette to join me, since we are working on this project together.  She asked Cati to come, knowing she would love it too. 

We fell into a goldmine.  Not only was listening to Marianne even better than I ever imagined it could be, but the music was spectacular, and Rickie Byars Beckwith was an absolute goddess on stage....her voice, her presence, all of it.  And the Bishop?  Incredible.  You should just come hear what he has to say for yourself.

I got to hug Marianne after the service, and I enjoyed watching the way she lit up with every person who waited to talk to her and have her sign a book.  Everyone had a story, and she seemed to really enjoy hearing them. We decided not to wait in the signing line, even though we both bought one of her books.

175th Street and Broadway is a long way from Sag Harbor, NY.  And it was well worth the trip.  Next time, we would like to bring an entire busload of our friends.  We sang a bit, danced a bit, smiled all day, and just couldn't believe our luck to stumble upon such a magical experience.  

I can't wait to go back!

Clearing space: my key for unlocking great plans

A key is a very small thing. But you never quite know how much it will unlock. A box. A closet. A universal puzzle like the shape of the earth or the motion of the planets.

Yesterday the key for me was as simple as cleaning my closet and rearranging my bedroom. I worked with a woman who calls herself a transformational stylist because she works at a deeper level with the goal of unlocking a person's trapped energy.  Stuff blocks energy.  Most of us know that. And yet clearing the clutter can take such a long time.  Why is that?

At some point just after lunch we found the key. We brainstormed a project that is so exciting to both of us that we don't care if it takes years to complete. It's one of those projects that makes you feel like you will put all of your talents to perfect use and you will have to bust through a couple of fears along the way… And yet the purpose makes that all seem  easy.

I have been looking for a key for several years now. I've been wandering around the same old house opening door after door. I think I just found the key to the outside where the sun shines and the moon glows and the wind blows and I just feel bigger.  I am so ready to get out of this house, the metaphorical house of clutter and stuck energy. 

Now, I love the house I live in more than ever.  I wake up every morning feeling such love for this place.  Everything feels shifted.  Time to get to work on a very important project.

I removed the bi-fold doors and installed a curtain to make the closet feel softer. I cleared out half of my clothes as well, so everything inside makes me happy.
A little corner of inspiration that I see daily. The portrait is of Georgia O'Keefe. The gold leafed Tibetan prayer beads are a recent gift from amazing jewelry designer Gretchen Buhler Ventura.

My dresser full of rocks, shells, photos and other goodies that inspire me.  Next step: paint the dresser grey and change the knobs.