Visible women at 60

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:32 pm on 23 September 2016

When photographer Jenny O'Connor was heading towards the big 'Six O' she started reflecting on what it meant to be coming up on old age.

She embarked on a project to photograph 60-year-old women, which resulted in a book, exhibition and stage show.

It was important for this series of photographs to be seen, because it's not often that we see "everyday" women in the media, Jenny says.

"We see a lot of older women these days talking about ageing and things, but they tend to be film stars or people who are well known. But this collection of women, which is up to over 70 women now, just every person who came my way, I took their photograph. I think that is what really strikes a chord with people."

Jenny initially photographed a few women, taking the time to sit down with them and learn more about their lives before turning the camera on them.

"The portrait was about being an expression of who they are right now, so it was really a snapshot in time, but when you hit our age, that moment in time is made up of everything you’ve ever been throughout your life."

The stories that the women told Jenny formed the basis of the book that was released.

"I started to realise that, really, rather than a one-off exhibition of just the images, that I needed to capture the sense of these women and what their lives had been about.

"I asked each and every woman to write something for the book and I had absolutely no boundaries around that, I just let them write as little or as much as they wanted to say."

Working with the women on their portraits gave Jenny an intimate peek into their life stories and sensibilities.

"What continues to blow me away is the sheer resilience of the human being, really. And women in particular because often they’re in the background, they go through so much in their lives and… it never fails to astound me."

Through her conversations, Jenny concluded that the lives of her generation are the same, but different from those of their mothers.

"Most of us have done the usual things that women do in our nurturing role, but the other part of us has been the fact that we have been in that generation that saw so much social change in the world, we saw all the human rights issues aired and we protested.

"It is different, but I still think the reflection process you go through when you hit a milestone where you know the future is way shorter than the past, I think what I have noticed anyway is it is still mostly about family, mostly about relationships and those sorts of life experiences that shape us."

The Visible at 60 exhibition is currently on display in Palmerston North at Te Manawa.

All images courtesy of Visible at 60 and Jenny O'Connor.

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