The photos mirrored the way I saw her, not just as a grandmother, but also as a human being. The thing we discovered together was, that besides the reflection of how I saw her, this whole acting of modelling also revealed how she saw herself.
Natasha Penaguiao is a young Danish who photographer who starting shooting her grandmother not knowing that it would evolve into a personal and intimate project around the subject of femininity, age and sexuality. In a society where youth is idealised and put on a pedestal it becomes a determining factor for the modern concept of success. But what happens in the minds of the experienced? Those who have lived decades through different ages and stages of life. What happens to their sexuality, body image and self-perspective? Penaguiao approaches some of these questions in Babuska, an experimental photographic project where her own grandmother takes the lead role in front of the lens confronting the viewer with a subject simultaneously full of complexity, fragility and strength.
How did you come up with the idea for Babuska?
It all started years back, when I first discovered my interest for photography. I started to take portraits of friends and family – naturally the first people to help me out as models while I was trying out my new camera at the time.
I remember there was something different about the ones I took of my grandmother, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
Years later I entered Fatamorgana, The Danish Photography Art School, and I had to decide on a subject for my finals. I wanted to do something personal and all I could think about was her. My grandmother was going through a difficult time living alone and I was helping her with a lot of practical stuff. I was struggling balancing time between her, my private life, and school. So I suggested we made a little photo shoot together, to light up the mood. One shoot took the other, and before I knew it, I found myself in the middle of a larger project.
Why did you choose the subject of age as something to investigate through the photographic medium?
When the project accelerated along the way, the subjects came along. I could suddenly see how it was not just about having fun dressing up and making beautiful and interesting images – it began to be about something more. The photos mirrored the way I saw her, not just as a grandmother, but also as a human being. The thing we discovered together was that besides the reflection of how I saw her, this whole acting of modelling also revealed how she saw herself.
I saw sides of her, I had never seen before, not just because of the scenery we created in a physical way, but also mentally. It seemed obvious that she gave herself limits because of her age, but once she started to have fun with it, she forgot about the limits and began to be creative about different sides of herself instead.
A lot of questions popped into my mind then. Questions about age and identity.
How does time change you and your dreams and desires?
How was the process of working on such an intimate project with a close family member?
It has been such an interesting journey, personally and professionally. It has been collaboration between the two of us all along the way, we both contributed with new ideas for shoots and setups. I have learned much more about her than I did before, and about myself as well as a matter of fact. I think it is important in general, if possible, to look closer. Get to know your family, like really know. And the thing about age is that it is often easier to open up about the past because you get an urge to tell your story. We have had some quite interesting talks and discussions during this process.
You choose an experimental approach to this project – how did you come up with some of the ideas for the photos?
Working with this kind of portrait was demanding when it came to creativity. But I will say that inspiration from dreams and other artists are important. Because it reflects the different layers of communication when it comes to images.
I used to look at old brilliant photographers work from the past, be inspired by an object or colour and then making my own scenario out of that. But mainly I trusted my instincts, when the idea popped up out of the blue. Luckily, my grandmother and I share same taste in visual aesthetics.
How do you think photography can help change the conversation around women today?
I think it is important to freeze those moments that haven’t had their voice in history yet. And lets face it, us women have some catching up to do when it comes to telling our story. Little by little, I hope and believe that all the voices are heard and stories are told. The tricky part is to do it.
No story is too small; we need all the pieces to see the whole picture.
What are you currently working on?
I’m still working on BABUSKA – going through material and planning on making it into a book, hopefully along with a solo exhibition.
All images are courtesy of Natasha Penaguiao
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