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A Photographer Who Makes Women Our Age Feel Vibrant

Photographer Susie Lang "spotlights and honors" older women through her portraits. Jeannie Ralston sends a dispatch from in front of the camera.

“Not famous!” I shouted to a wide-eyed woman who was craning her neck as she passed my group on West 57th Street in New York City last week.

“Nothing to see here. No celebrities,” I said with a smile to another woman who looked as if she was going to approach me for an autograph. Over the course of the afternoon, I said something similar to several passers-by.

What was attracting their attention and giving them the wrong idea were the two people I was with that day. Susie Lang was holding a serious camera to her face, and gently asking me to straighten my shoulders, move my chin this way or that. She would snap a picture and coo with delight, encouraging me to try other poses, other expressions. All the while, Jordan Benaderet, her young assistant, was holding a reflective disc of fabric near my face so that light bounced from the sun to highlight my features. I knew from my time working on magazine staffs and being married to a professional photographer that we looked like we might be doing a real fashion or editorial shoot. That I might be a person of interest.

I’ve written about feeling invisible before, but this was the opposite sensation.

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Getting Comfortable

The author on the streets of New York with Susie Lang’s assistant Jordan Benaderet.

It’s hard not to be self-conscious when you have your photo taken. At least at this age. I have posed for lots of photos (see above, re: professional photographer ex-husband), but it’s been ages since I have felt at ease in front of a camera. Here are the things that go through my head when a camera is trained on me: Are my eyes too crinkly when I smile? Will the age spots show through my foundation? Is my neck going to look saggy? And what was that dang technique for appearing to have a tight neck in photos? Stick out your chin? Raise your tongue to the roof of your mouth? Arrgh!

Each photograph is a celebration of their wisdom, empowerment, and extraordinary presence.

I knew going into this photo shoot with Susie Lang that she specializes in taking portraits of women around my age (62). “Fueled by a desire to counter the invisibility often imposed upon older women, my mission is to spotlight and honor this remarkable demographic,” she told me in an e-mail. “Each photograph is a celebration of their wisdom, empowerment, and extraordinary presence, acknowledging that their life, not only continues but flourishes.”

Susie’s other career is as a psychotherapist and they are strangely yet perfectly aligned. “I feel that my background as a psychotherapist offers a very healing space for clients to be deeply seen and heard—which is one of life’s most precious, rare gifts,” she says. “It enables me reach a deeper kind of human connection—which is especially magical during a photo session.”

Snapping Away

photographer for older women, Susie Lang

The photographer/psychotherapist Susie Lang.

This kind of thinking made me feel relaxed and confident because I knew she would work hard to find the qualities and features that would shine through the camera and look out for poses or light that might not do me favors. You know, the inadvertent reveal of a double chin or a droopy eye.

When it comes to photos, there’s no substitute for feeling at ease from the very start.

I arrived with several changes of clothes but Susie wanted to start with the outfit I came off the subway wearing, including the noise-canceling headphones around my neck. She was smart. This was the outfit I felt most comfortable in. The other clothes were ones I thought I should wear for a photo. When it comes to photos, there’s no substitute for feeling at ease from the very start.

I became more comfortable as the afternoon progressed, mainly because her words of encouragement were authentic and spot-on, not empty flattery, a la Austin Powers. (“You’re a tiger!”) We talked and laughed through out the shoot. I changed clothes; we moved to a rooftop on the 30th floor of her apartment building with a partial view of Central Park. She loved how the breeze picked up my hair; she commented on my smile. I felt prettier than I had in years. But actually, more than pretty. I felt “seen.”

The Power In Front of—and Behind—the Camera

photographer for older women, Susie Lang

The author’s favorite photo from the shoot with Susie Lang. No photoshopping–just good vibes on both sides of the camera. 

I had just gotten home from the photo shoot when I received a text. “I’ve been delighting in working on your pics today,” Susie said, referring to the editing process. “Naturally striking.” Separately she send me an email with a slew of what she called “instant gratification” shots—those she had taken on her I-phone so that I didn’t have to wait for her to edit the others to get a glimpse of the day’s sessions.

It’s all to do with where I photograph that makes everyone‘s skin look awesome.

Later, when I got the “real” photos, I couldn’t believe they were of me. I asked Susie to confirm that there was no photoshopping. “It’s all to do with where I photograph that makes everyone‘s skin look awesome,” she responded. “For example, in the shade looking out into the light.” I kept reviewing them over and over, not out of vanity, but because I appeared so much more vibrant than I do in the mirror every day. This is my thought many mornings when I look in the mirror: Oh, it’s you again. But these photos made me think: Where have you been hiding?

I thought of what Susie told me about why she likes to work with women our age: “My work cultivates connections that allow each woman to truly see herself, to be visible to herself, inspiring a broader recognition of her worth.”

She also explained, as the smart therapist she is, that becoming visible to ourselves means we no longer feel so invisible to the outside world. “Working with older women,” she says, “has afforded me the opportunity to promote personal discovery and empowerment.”

After viewing the results of the shoot, I think I could have said to those on the street who were wondering if they’d stumbled across a celebrity, “Not famous. But still someone.”

If you’d like to schedule a shoot with Susie Lang, click here for details and rates. 

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By Jeannie Ralston


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