My "40 Over 40" Photo Shoot
Why I'm glad I didn't cancel. Plus: A Q&A with photographer Angelique Hanesworth. And a "40 Over 40" fundraiser June 29th to benefit Washbourne House domestic violence shelter.
This week I did something fun and uplifting. But first I had to ruin it for myself, which unfortunately turns out to be kind of how I roll.
The first thing I did when I walked into Angelique Hanesworth’s Eye Spy Photography studio in Gardiner, New York on Monday was something I often do before engaging in experiences likely to bring me joy: I fell apart.
I was there for a photo shoot as part of in Hanesworth’s “40 Over 40” project, celebrating “the beauty, strength and wisdom of women 40 and over.” Crying just before having my picture taken—leaving my eyes and nose red and puffy—was ill-advised. But there I was.
“I came this close to canceling,” I confessed between sobs. “I feel so conflicted about doing this for myself.”
I explained that the most difficult hurdle was the indulgence, and the idea of treating myself to something focused on my appearance—even though I’d convinced myself it was a sort of political act to do so at an age when our culture treats women as invisible.
Hanesworth and her makeup artist, Mia, consoled me, assuring me I was hardly their only client to have mixed feelings about having her picture taken. (See a Q & A with Hanesworth at the bottom!) I explained that the most difficult hurdle was the indulgence, and the idea of treating myself to something focused on my appearance—even though I’d convinced myself it was a sort of political act to do so at an age when our culture treats women as invisible.
I’d signed up for “40 Over 40” after coming across a friend’s gorgeous photo from the project on Instagram in late February. In it, Rebeccca was posed like a model—turned to the side, gazing off into the distance—yet she was completely recognizable as herself; a glowing, particularly radiant version. She didn’t appear to be overly made up. She wore a simple black dress that flattered her. She emanated confidence.
One look and I thought, I want that. I DMed Rebecca, got a link to the project, and told Hanesworth over email that I wanted to have my photo taken (and to write about it for Oldster).
It was $499 for: a pre-shoot consultation where aesthetics, wardrobe, and lighting were considered; shoot-day hair and makeup by Mia, a professional; the shoot itself in Hanesworth’s beautiful studio; one final photo of my choice, professionally touched-up by Hanesworth; my photo included in a gallery show, exhibited at a fundraiser for the Washbourne House, a domestic violence shelter in Kingston. (You can get additional shots in different outfits for an added fee. There’s also a referral program, though which your bill is reduced if women you refer also sign up.)
After setting up an appointment for a shoot and a pre-shoot consultation, a familiar shift took place in me: I became anxious and filled with self-doubt.
I’m struggling financially, but rationalized that it had been three years since I’d had professional headshots taken—I’m a lot grayer now!—and I’d be doing book publicity for a while. Maybe we’d land on a photo that could serve more than one need—that could simultaneously be practical, and a frivolous indulgence.
After setting up an appointment for a shoot and a pre-shoot consultation, a familiar shift took place in me: I became anxious and filled with self-doubt. Why was I doing this? Who did I think I was? And what the hell was I going to wear?
Like so many others, I’ve been sitting in my house for two-and-a-half years, each day throwing on leggings and over-sized shirt-dresses. I hate most of the clothes I haven’t worn since lockdown began in March, 2020. I have a couple of okay dresses from The Before Times, but I couldn’t get excited about wearing them. Besides, what was I aiming for, anyway? To look as if I was about to go on a job interview, or attend a bar mitzvah?
I needed something new to wear that would make me feel like me but different in the best possible way—a special but recognizable version. A me I’d maybe envisioned but hadn’t had the opportunity to embody. But that meant spending even more money. What business did I have spending money on myself? And where was I going to shop, now that Amazon and other online retailers have killed nearly every affordable brick-and-mortar store besides Target and Old Navy, at least in the area where I live, New York’s mid-Hudson Valley?
Not to mention that what I was considering wearing was hard to find. Inspired by Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, and Barbra Streisand in her A Star Is Born period, I had the idea that I wanted to dress in a menswear-inspired women’s suit.
I did a little driving around my area, flipping through racks of too-expensive suits here, itchy, ill-fitting vintage ones there. Nothing worked. Then I started ordering garments online. I received and returned five different ensembles. Stumped, I postponed my shoot by a few weeks. Dread set in. I considered canceling altogether.
Finally, I found a white linen suit on sale for 60% off on the Banana Republic site. But I had to exchange each of the pieces at least once (by mail—no Banana Republic shops anywhere near where I live), and the right size jacket didn’t arrive in time for my shoot. So, in the end, I just wore the pants and the vest.
But not before seriously considering calling it all off. Too embarrassed to do that—and out of consideration for Angelique’s and Mia’s time—I got in the car and told myself that if it all went horribly and my photo was awful, then I’d never have to show it to anyone; no one would ever know I ever had the ridiculous notion that I deserved to treat myself to something as frivolous as a photo shoot.
Within the first few minutes of my arrival and meltdown, Angelique and Mia put me at ease. They also demonstrated that they clearly got me and my aesthetic. I’d been a bit worried about that, because many of the photos in the “40 Over 40” project feature a very different aesthetic than mine. But Angelique and Mia both wore smart casual dresses that day that I’d also choose for myself. Mia had tattoos, as I do, and talked about her time living on the Lower East Side, at the same time I’d been living in the East Village. They put on some music, I shifted out of meltdown mode into okay-I-can-do-this mode, and the fun began.
We told stories. We laughed. We had the best time together. I felt supported and seen and understood, and I didn’t want to leave when it was over.
Over a couple of hours, Hanesworth positioned me this way and that, first on a gray background, then a white one. Mia kept touching up the subtle makeup she put on me. All the while, we told stories. We laughed. We had the best time together. I felt supported and seen and understood, and good about myself, and I didn’t want to leave when it was over.
At the end, after I changed back into the shmatte I’d arrived in, Hanesworth showed me an assortment of what she thought were the best shots of me. We reviewed them, and both agreed on which was the “keeper.”
Obviously I’m glad I didn’t cancel my shoot. I had a great experience, and now I have a fanstastic photo I can use in a couple of different ways. I’m excited to attend the 40 over 40 Gala this Wednesday, June 29th at The Senate Garage in Kingston, where my photo will be displayed among all the others from the project. I look forward to meeting all the other women in my cohort, and hearing their stories.
Q & A with photographer Angelique Hainesworth
What inspired you to start 40 Over 40?
I was inspired to start my 40 Over 40 campaign to help redefine the standard of beauty in the media and within women themselves. Once we hit 40, many women begin to feel “unseen”, partly due to societal marketing, and partly because we are typically the support structure holding everyone else up around us. I wanted to give women an incredible experience that results in portraiture of them in their power of adulthood. Oddly enough, most of the women I speak to say they feel the most comfortable in their skin now, but yet when I ask them when their favorite picture of themself was taken, it is often decades ago. I wanted to change that. I wanted them to have beautiful images that corresponded to the time in their life that they felt the most like “them”.
How long have you been doing this?
I have been a photographer for about 13 years, but I have done this specific genre for about a year.
How many women have you photographed for this project?
So far, I have photographed 46 women. I am now on my second round of participants and have no plans to stop!
What has been the age range? Gender range? You said there have been some gender-non-conforming subjects.
I have photographed women who just turned 40, and I’ve gone all the way up to 87. It is my goal to get women in their 90’s and beyond. It is also important to me that I represent diversity so I celebrate multiple sizes, ethnicities, sexual orientation, and gender identities.
Have other women cried, or been reluctant, or ambivalent before their shoot? And how did it turn out for them?
Most of the women that I photograph walk into my studio saying this is something they wouldn’t normally do. The vast majority come in nervous or even scarred, and I’ve learned that for many, having their photograph taken is a traumatic experience. I try to make it as fun and relaxing of an experience as possible, and so far everyone who has left has said it was way more fun than they expected and they didn’t know what they were so worried about. I guide each of my clients through the shoot, so they feel supported, valued and seen. Nothing makes me happier than to see a woman walk out of my studio as if she were floating on air. I’ve gotten beautiful emails telling me they felt seen and rejuvenated. In a small way, I’m trying to do my part in helping women to feel great about themselves. I think this has a ripple effect in society. Imagine what it would be like if we all walked around feeling beautiful, valued, and seen? I think the world would be a better place.