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The role of portraiture in the time of pro-aging.

My photographic work has evolved with age. My own age as well as the one we are in. We - not the collective ‘we’ but the Western world ‘we’ - have always had an aversion for agism. We don’t want to discuss it. We don’t want to see it. We don’t want to accept it for ourselves and so we hate it on others. We admire, envy and chase youth (often in many unreasonable and costly ways), we chastise wrinkles and the inevitable passing of time. It’s not new. Portraits from the 15th century already smoothed out the skin on portraits and seeked a certain degree of physical perfection.

As a beginner photographer, I was also guilty of favoring younger models (easier to capture) and accommodating older subjects requests to be airbrushed in post-processing. However, I feel lucky. I have had the privilege to (1) travel to countries where the older generations are cherished and valued (Africa, China, Japan to name a few) and (2) live in an age where women have had enough. Enough with inequalities and with being ranked as sub-citizens the minute their hair grays and their skin loosens. Women are tired of hiding, of being ashamed of something we literally have no control over and all going through regardless of who we are or think we are. We have been conditioned to hate or deny ourselves in so many ways. Now, we want to occupy the space that is ours, we want to be happy in it, and it starts by seeing ourselves and each other out there as we are to more than accept, to love it.

We can’t stop time. We can’t reverse the clock. What we can do is embrace and own it. We may never have been this old, but we equally will never be this young, and we need to be represented in that blaze of glory. My role as an image maker in this cultural mutiny, is to create flattering (sure) but also truthful representation. Look out world, we’re coming out of that closet you tried to shove in and we are ready to stare at you in the eye.

Five years ago, I decided I preferred to spend my energy gracefully aging rather than fighting the inevitable like Don Quixote did his windmills. Full disclosure, it didn’t happen overnight. It took some internal convincing and ‘fake it til you make it’ time. Let the grays be gray. Whether following this path as an individual came from work, or work came from me (chicken or the egg), my portraiture production was on the same tracks. I was becoming more interested in finding ways (set ups and lighting) to photograph wrinkles and faces with ‘life behind ‘em eyes’. Faces with stories are more delicate. They need more time and care, but they shine all the same. They don’t need layers of make-up or AI generated filters, they need TLC and the right light to let them shine. I want to be part of a culture that glorifies the wisdom of years, not one that ‘puts Baby in a corner’ (if you know, you know).

I regularly take photography workshops with artists I admire. I’m interested to hear about their story, their processes, their projects. I learn new things, I try new things. For portraiture, of course, you need models. And one common thread I found so far is that they always hire young professional models. Yes, they are beautiful, hair and make up ready, and they know what to do. But, I actually would prefer to find someone older posing (I have asked to no avail). I’d like to work on raw material. Let’s work on light set ups and stage direction for the 99.9% of other people who want their picture taken. Let’s capture and represent everyone else. More.

I grew up visually flooded with visuals of unrealistic beauty standards. The ones that created body shaming, food disorders and other negative perceptions of the self. The best thing I can offer my children is to help rectify the lens to a full spectrum of life. Not only by taking portraits of every fiber of our society in age and ethnic background, but by making sure each person who sits in front of my camera leaves feeling good about themselves.

Portraiture in the time of pro-aging is fundamental in changing the perception of aging and beauty. We need to celebrate the natural process of time and authenticity of characters, empower whoever sits in front of our cameras as we challenge those toxic cultural standards, tell life stories not just fantasies, let's be proud of our lines and scars towards inclusive, accepting and age-positive thinking.

In the essence of Kurt, 'come as you are, choice is yours'.

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