Text by Mandi Keighran / Photos: Ari Seth Cohen
Style, like much in life, gets better with age. That’s the message of photographer/blogger Ari Seth Cohen, whose Advanced Style blog draws over 300,000 readers a month, and has been made into a book and now a critically-acclaimed documentary.
“I’ve always had a fascination with older women, starting with my grandmothers,” says Cohen. “As a young boy growing up in San Diego, they were the most interesting people in my life – they were so glamorous and so different from anyone my age.”
When Cohen’s grandmother passed away in 2008, he moved to New York, which may be the world capital of colourful characters – especially its more mature residents. At first, Cohen simply struck up conversations with people who intrigued him, then started taking photos using a borrowed camera. “There weren’t any projects celebrating older people,” he says. “I wanted to put something out there that was very affirmative, positive and celebratory.”
His subjects have included the flamboyant Ilona Royce Smithkin, a 94-year-old painter and performer who painted Tennessee Williams, and 81-year-old Joyce Carpati, a supremely elegant former opera singer. Like many of Cohen’s subjects, they’ve become fashion icons, with appearances in American Vogue and European fashion magazines. An Advanced Style book was released in 2012, and there are plans for another book and a project focusing on stylish older men.
“Older people are often made to feel invisible,” says Cohen. “So a lot of the people I approached weren’t used to being asked to pose in front of a camera and were a bit skeptical. In the end, though, many of them want to share their lives. These women really come alive in front of the camera. I don’t have to tell them how to pose – it’s their moment. They have such a rich history and so much to share, but not always the opportunity.”
A documentary, directed by Lina Plioplyte, offered an even better chance. Like the blog, the documentary came about in an organic way. Cohen and Plioplyte started doing small interviews with the women about style. “As we interviewed them we realised that what was really interesting was these women in action, living their lives and giving advice,” Cohen says. Following a Kickstarter campaign, which raised over US$55,000 (NOK329,000) in funding, the film was released in May this year to overwhelmingly positive reviews.
“I get emails every day from people telling me they’re no longer afraid to get older as they now have these incredible role models,” says Cohen. “It shows people the possibilities and gives people permission to celebrate age.”
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