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Centenarian Secrets: In the Flesh

Tina Gunn
By Tina GunnJune 16, 2014
Centenarian Secrets: In the Flesh

It is said that with age comes wisdom, and if you’re fortunate enough to live past the age of 100, every wrinkle is like a mark of experience and knowledge gained from a lifetime of laughter and tears, cheers and jeers. Photographer Anastasia Pottinger captures these wrinkles of time through a compelling series of images.

Centenarians, people over the age of 100, represent .02% of the U.S. population. The top U.S. states where people are living the longest include Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island and South Dakota.

Even though the total percentage of Centenarian population is small, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that there is a 66% increase in the number of people living past the age of 100 since 1980. In comparison, people over the age of 65 represent 13% of the U.S. population — making the Centenarian population extra special and unique, and a cause for celebration.

Family and commercial photographer Anastasia Pottinger is celebrating Centenarians in a truly unique way. She’s captured what the human body looks like after reaching the age of 100 through a series of nude photographs — and the results are powerfully beautiful.

Folds of History and Beauty

From shooting family photos to commercial spaces, Anastasia turns her focus to capture images of Centenarians in a captivating and artistic way. We had the opportunity to speak with Anastasia, how she got inspired to do this series and the next steps she has planned for it.

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A Place for Mom (APFM): How long have you been a photographer, and what/who do you typically shoot?

Anastasia Pottinger: I’ve been interested in photography most of my life and have been a professional for the past 12 years. I typically do portraiture (families, newborns, head shots) and commercial work (anything from moving boxes to magazine covers to food photography).

APFM: What prompted the idea to shoot centenarians?

AP: I was approached by a woman who was 101 years old at the time.  My mom worked with her as her personal assistant and asked her if she’d ever considered modeling nude.  She had not, but said she’d be happy to do so, she was always up for an adventure.  At the time, that shoot was just an exercise in documenting her body in a beautiful and abstract way.  I didn’t have the idea to do an entire project on it at that time.  Later, when I reviewed the images, I was struck by their beauty and the idea for the project was born.  I wanted to capture more people over 100 and treat them with respect and reverence and show their bodies as beautiful.

APFM: What was it like working with this demographic of models?

AP: I LOVE working with this demographic.  I really enjoy talking and listening to their stories.  People who are 100 at this point in history have really lived through a lot of change.  I have also learned about being very careful and helpful as far as moving their bodies and asking them to pose in certain ways.  I feel very lucky to get to work with people in this way, I don’t think many people have the opportunity to see them the way I do.  It is very empowering to them!  My models love being a part of the project and helping people to see them as beautiful.

APFM: What has been the overall response to this series?

AP:  Overwhelmingly positive.  It’s interesting because when I first worked on the series 3 years ago, I worked very hard to have it be seen and was successful to a small degree.  I think maybe society wasn’t quite ready for it yet because now, it has just taken off like crazy.  I never would have guessed how popular it would become.  I have received emails from all over the world asking to run the story and show the images.  Millions of people have seen it now and the response has overwhelmingly been positive.  Most people have an emotional response to the images.  I’ve received many emails from people saying it has reminded them of a beloved family member or it has helped them to see themselves as beautiful and important.

APFM: What has surprised you most after shooting this series?

AP:  I guess I’m most surprised when people have a negative reaction to the images and say something like, “I don’t want to look like that” or “I don’t want to live that long.”  I WANT to look like this!  To live to be 101 and have both breasts intact and to be mobile and courageous enough to model nude?  Yes, I want that very much!  I guess I’m also surprised at how easy it is to get models.  The hardest part is finding the centenarians.  Everyone I have found and shown the work to and asked to model has agreed to do so.

APFM: What has been the greatest learning after shooting images of Centenarians?

AP: I’ve learned to slow down and to listen better, to pay attention more to the older people in my own life.  I’ve also learned not to be afraid to sit down and talk with people I don’t know and ask about their lives.

APFM: Why do you think this series is important?

AP: I think it’s important to look at all people as beautiful, to see past the skin and see the value of everyone.  I think, too often, older people are forgotten or put aside and people don’t take the time to talk and LISTEN to them anymore.  They aren’t considered as valuable or seen to have important things to say.  I couldn’t disagree with that more.  I have so much respect for my models—for their courage and for their willingness to help society by sharing themselves with me in this very personal way.

APFM: How are you going about soliciting for models?

AP:  So far, all of my models have come through people I know.  Tomorrow, that will change as I will photograph the first person who came to me through seeing the images online on one of the many many sites that published them this past month.  I’m in LA right now to photograph a 105 year old woman who’s family contacted me after seeing the images online.  All of the models are volunteers; I thank them by giving them portraits and/or a few prints from the session.  If my book deal comes through, I will need to cast a wider net and take out some advertising in bigger markets that I can travel to and photograph more people at a time instead of criss-crossing the country one model at a time.

APFM: What has been the feedback from the models after the photos started to circulate online publications?  

AP: Only one of my original models is still alive and she was very excited to know that the project has gone viral and is being seen by so many people.

APFM: What’s next for you?  

AP: I’m hoping for a publisher to purchase the book and that will take some time to finish up.  There will be a fair amount of travel involved to complete the images for the book so I think it is going to be a busy 6 months!  I have a few other projects in my mind—one about the tattoos of basketball players and the other is about my son who has a host of mental and neurological disorders.  I’ve been photographing him for about 5 years now.

Are you interested in being a part of history? Anastasia Pottinger is looking for 100+ year olds to be included in her upcoming book, 100 at 100. 

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