Browse photographer Ben Baker’s online portfolio and you’ll see sumptuous portraits of the crème de la crème of American society: G. W. Bush, Ben Stiller, the Olsen Twins, the Obamas…
Then click on the “American Beauty” section of Baker’s website and scroll through these portraits.
You might be surprised.
These women aren’t famous. They’re not models. And some of them are… older.
The portraits above are just three of what eventually will be 100 photographs by Baker of diverse New York women – one woman for every year of life from birth through age 100. The photographer says he wants American Beauty to be a social document as much as it is a photographic one.
He’s shooting the portraits in his NYC studio – and he’s looking for ladies of all ethnicities and ages to be a part of his project.
A Lasting Portrait of the City
Unlike his work shooting for magazines and advertising, American Beauty is a personal project for Baker and one that, he hopes, will encapsulate both the passage of time in women’s lives and a moment in time in NYC.
“Magazines are fleeting; I long for pictures to have longevity,” he says. “Everything is so immediate in the current age. I want people to stop and take a long look and absorb it…. Maybe people will still look at these 15 years from now and see a portrait of what New York City was.”
Lattice Graham, 90
NYC is, and always will be, a few million stories – and that’s what Baker is looking for. He’s not interested in magazine model looks. He doesn’t even want to see an image beforehand.
What Is an American Beauty?
Don’t get Baker started on the pressure that the beauty industry puts on women. “I worked on a shoot that profiled women who had chosen not to get plastic surgery, and the magazine was going to retouch the shoot!” Powerful women can be the hardest to photograph because the pressure is doubly intense. “They’re in a spotlight all the time, being judged. No one questions what a male senator looks like; women are judged not only by how successful they are, but how they look.”
For American Beauty, there’s no make-up artist, no stylist; just the photographer, his camera, white background and a woman of a certain age.
Unlike the public figures he shoots, his American Beauties start out a mystery to Baker. “You don’t know the people beforehand, you can’t do research – how do you find the compelling thing in five minutes?”
Carmen Estrada, 71
Baker wants to see how each woman expresses her individuality – that’s the “beauty” he’s after. It means making his models feel comfortable by spending time chatting, finding points of connection.
“Women in general – people in general, whether they’re President or First Lady – I try to approach everyone in the same way.”
For American Beauty, Baker also asks a series of questions. The photographs and stories will become part of a video as well as the photo series.
Baker says the older women he’s photographed for this series are the most comfortable expressing who they are. “They have come to know themselves and be happy with themselves,” he says. “They don’t have to make others happy.”
“When I see my mother now, she’s more radical and having more fun! ‘This is who I am and I’m thrilled to be here.’”
Ruth Klein, 66
To be considered for the American Beauty project, contact Ben Baker’s studio by emailing americanbeauty@benbakerphoto.
If you know someone who might want to participate – especially women over 75 – share this page.
“Everyone gets a small selection of digital pictures emailed to them – and a complementary 8 x 10 print,” Baker says.
Photos: Ben Baker