A byproduct of questions about aging and a chance meeting turned interview-cum-photography session while vacationing on Patmos, Ellen Warner’s The Second Half is the culmination of fifteen years spent pursing older women’s experiences through interviews and portrait photography. A fascinating, fly-in-amber distillation of forty women over fifty, the book pushes these women to the foreground, shaking up expectations along the way.
The book’s parameters were simple: participants had to be women at least fifty years old; interesting looking, not necessarily beautiful; who were willing to open up and be honest in an interview; and who were not Warner’s friends. Guided by a set of eight interview questions, word-of-mouth, and a camera, Warner assembled women who spanned demographic and national boundaries.
The resultant book revels in each woman’s uniqueness. Despite their many differences, it also manages to find an organic universality. The subjects include a third wife in Saudi Arabia, resistance leaders from World War II, Old Hollywood royalty, and traditional healers; their range of experiences is wide and deep. At the heart of the interviews, certain observations recur: the importance of friends, family, and knowing oneself; strength, determination, and confidence; and a willingness to acknowledge and embrace aging’s harsh realities and gifts.
The accompanying black-and-white images also capture a holistic, organic sense of each woman. The age of each sitter becomes an asset and a feature as the camera captures a stark play of light and shadow across bodies and faces at ease in their personal spaces. The results elevate Warner’s portraiture from mimetic to revelatory.
In her introduction, Erica Jong notes, “Photography usually shows us the magic of youth, which is no challenge.” The Second Half looks at women’s lives after fifty and shows that aging is more compelling than youth’s easy magic.
Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.