MONTICELLO, Maine — Portrait photographer Nanette Faye Gordon breaks stereotypes and celebrates the wisdom, creativity and beauty of women older than 50 through her work and recent podcast.
Gordon’s work is an intimate connection between the woman, the photographer and the lens. Many times, when a woman sees what Gordon has captured, she is surprised by her own beauty, Gordon said.
“It really continues to blow me away when women tell me about themselves, ‘Well I’ve got this one eye that does this,’ or they say they are not photogenic,” she said.
As she continues to meet women in Maine and other parts of New England, she said she has discovered women in their 50s, 60s and 70s who are doing bold things in unconventional ways. That’s why she started her recent podcast on Spotify, Fire After 50, she said.
Her first two podcast interviews were with women artists living a somewhat bohemian lifestyle in the United Kingdom. On Thursday, Gordon interviewed a Hodgdon artist and several others are in the queue, she said.
The Fire after 50 podcast is an outgrowth of her Empower Portrait Project that she completed with 33 New England women last year. Initially, she had the women respond to writing prompts basically exploring who they were. The session culminated in a photo shoot, she said, adding that photography can be extremely therapeutic.
Gordon spends six months working from her Monticello farm in Aroostook County, a few miles off a main road, and six months in Yarmouth. She grew up in Houlton and graduated from Houlton High School. Prior to her photography career, she worked for 13 years with the Maine Department of Corrections.
Women often see themselves through a lens tainted by stigma and societal pressures and when they look in the mirror, they do not see what she sees, Gordon said. Similar to the Dove Real Beauty Sketches Project, Gordon helps women see their unique beauty. Some, like Ashley Watts, said the photo sessions made them feel like warriors. Others talk about how the sessions — sometimes in water, the woods, in Victorian homes — are cleansing and freeing.
In the Dove project, seven women described their appearance to a Federal Bureau of Investigation forensic sketch artist who could not see the woman as he drew the sketch. Next, a random stranger was asked to describe the woman to the artist. The stranger’s description was more accurate, portraying the woman as happier and more attractive from her own description.
“I want to show that these women are wise, strong, capable, beautiful, sexy and so many other things,” Gordon, 63, said. “I feel that women over 50 are not very well represented in marketing and media. We are not celebrated for our wisdom and what we still have to offer communities, friends and families.”
Similar to the podcast and the Empower Portrait Project, Gordon’s water sessions with women create deeply soulful images. She uses a shallow pool and the woman lays in the pool with her face out of the water. She is wrapped in cheesecloth and without clothing it is easier to see the woman, who she is, she said. Gordon is on a ladder and shoots the images over the woman in the pool.
“I am trusted with their most intimate stories,” she said. “It’s a big blessing for me. I learn so much about myself through these women and they see themselves through my eyes, which is a different view. In a photograph there is a picture of the person and a picture of the person who took the picture.”