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?

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.

Happy Birthday Malala

Happy 17th Birthday, Malala!

I love seeing the journey that you have begun, and I look forward to seeing where your path takes you.  I hope that you and your father will see many more double rainbows along the way!This trip to Kenya and the incredible schools we saw being built (and helped build!) there will always be a special memory for me.

*In Chinese culture, red symbolizes the feet and violet represents the head.
So a primary rainbow appears to illustrate a human descending from heaven.

The secondary arc has reversed colors, with red on the bottom and the violet on top, 
so it represents the ascending from the material earth to heaven.

Therefore, seeing a double rainbow is considered a very auspicious occasion,
one that seemed appropriate to send on your birthday.

#behind the scenes story:

We spent a week working together in Kenya: the Malala Fund team, a Free the Children team, and Davis Guggenheim and his film crew , who are working on a documentary about her to be released next year. 

Typically we were eating breakfast at 6am and on the road at 7 to head to one of the local schools that Free the Children had built.  By the time we arrived, the girls were already in class.  They were happy to meet Malala and have her join them in class.  We met many girls, heard many stories and shared many of our own over the week.  We had limited contact with the world for that week (wi-fi in one tent only) and it was a beautiful experience.

On our last day, most of us were almost too tired to go on a safari, but it seemed a shame to be so close and not go....and we were well rewarded.  We saw all of the usual suspects: zebras, warthogs, gazelle, 2 cheetahs, a sleeping lion, giraffe....everything but elephants.  Suddenly, it began to rain.  To pour.  We began to head back, exhausted but happy.  Then just as suddenly, the rain stopped.  The dark clouds remained, but the sun broke through.  As the photographer on the team, I was on the lookout for anything to photograph.....because the light was truly spectacular.  Then came the double rainbow (more than I could have asked for!).  We stopped the cars.  Our guides were nervous to let us out....but we had Masai warriors with us, so we feared nothing.

This brilliant double rainbow appeared for about a minute.  We had just enough time to grab a few photos (a group shot as well, though the rainbows were fading). Indeed we could see both ends of these glorious rainbows.  It rained most of the way back, and the slippery mud roads were frightening in places (we thought our car was going to flip in one gulley).....but we smiled for the entire journey.

More about Double Rainbows.

I asked my friend Elizabeth MacLeod for her insight about double rainbows.  I got SO much more than I could have imagined.  This deserves an entire post.... but for now, it rests here:
Here are a few more insights into double rainbows for you:
The double rainbow is the infinite inside the infinite. The second rainbow is a reflection of the first, which also is a reflection. The awe of the reflection signifies the possible transformation one could see in their lives. Because a rainbow is so inspiring and can alter you with just viewing one, the transformation that can take place when seeing too, or capturing two can take you quickly from one state of being to another. You are moving inside to the other realm and the other realm is letting you see it for a moment.
The possibilities that come from something like this for the human experience is that of beauty, that of life, that of the possibilities that exist that we don't always know about or want to see. When we see the double rainbow, it could mean that much transformation is occurring, BUT… when captured on film for another to view, there is an opportunity to be of service to another as you can help them to transform and help them to see the possibility, which is sometimes more important than that the actual transformation.

Without the possibility for such magic to occur, one can remain stuck in thinking it's not possible. And that is such a shame.

To see a double rainbow and photograph it brings a pleasure the ordinary person finds difficult to achieve. So for a brief moment, an opening can occur, providing a vehicle for you or someone to be catapulted into another realm of beauty, another realm of happiness or even, sent into the realm of possibility. For some, it might just open the door to magic.

And when that happens, even just with one person, the whole world shifts a little, making it somewhat of a potent moment. Potent in intention. Potent in accumulation. Potent in accreditation that something beyond what we know and beyond what we understand exists.

With that, we can open into "then there must be possibility" and that is really the meaning here when people talk of double rainbows and transformation.

It is a blessed event. Spiritual and material in nature. It open this door. and widens possibility.  When we talk of widen possibility, we can then be open to miracles. And once we see a miracle, then we can become the miracle as well. That is the beauty of a double rainbow.


Then add Malala. She is a miracle. In this picture, 2 loves. 2 reflections of love. A rainbow is individual drops of rain reflecting. To have Malala here, with her father, a reflection of love . .. and to see the rainbows in the background with all the individual drops of rain creating a beautiful, not one, but two rainbows, means so much possibility and so many miracles can take place in the world as there are many watching.

To me, it symbolizes individuals transforming in light of all that has happened, but that we are all one in many colours, races religions. We have bypassed all of this with this young girl and her profound impact on the world.

It's like to me a rain drop that falls in the ocean and becomes one with the ocean, but yet still remains a drop. that's what this picture feels like to me. Does that make any sense?

It's like the whole world is with her, on a spiritual plane and an earthly plane. For a double rainbow to be present here, with her, and her father, that's transformation in it's biggest form. And we are all witnessing it and can be present to it.  It's also beautiful.

And you are the catalyst for our seeing this…

-Elizabeth MacLeod,  Founder and Author at Wild Woman Enchanted