Women Among Us: Portraits and Stories of Strength
Women Among Us: Portraits of Strength is a collaboration among women. This series features photographic portraits of women aged sixty-five or older, accompanied by haikus and biographical narratives about the subjects. Five women also designed the exhibition, each contributing an important role in bringing to life this portfolio of work: Becki Rutta is the photographer, author Mary Jane Ryals wrote the accompanying poems and prose, Lynn Knight designed the accompanying catalogue, and Eleanor Dietrich and Linda Hall assembled the collaborators and brought them together. In a concerted effort to convey the depth and richness of their experiences, all seventeen of the women sitters took the time to share their stories, each as individual as the women themselves.
Over the course of a lifetime, each of the women featured in this portfolio has impacted their communities through either education or activism. They have worked as nurses, teachers, librarians, dancers, visual artists, small business owners, researchers, and writers. Some continue to do so. From saving lives from Ebola in Africa, to running a café, to being the first to integrate dance schools, to being appointed to serve by U.S. President Barack Obama, these women are to be admired and celebrated.
The photographs were loosely inspired by Irving Penn’s now-iconic Small Trades, a portfolio of portraits of workers begun in the early 1950s wearing the uniforms and holding the tools associated with their trades. The subjects in Women Among Us were photographed wearing the outfits and holding the props of their choosing, which were often related to their careers. Supplemented with an accompanying haiku, each portrait is, in essence, a collaboration between photographer, author, and sitter, in which individuality and personality shine through. The haikus eloquently give further insight to the sitters, suggesting additional layers to the portraits and their subjects. The short biographical narratives delve even deeper into lives rich with accomplishments and stories. The portraits and stories celebrate what it means to age as a woman, a vastly underrepresented demographic in photography.