The Beauty of Photographing Older Faces

Photos © Paul Cotter Photography

It’s ironic that our society loves old architecture, vintage cameras, antique furniture and weathered clothing – but when it comes to people, we worship youth and wrinkle-free faces.

I feel we're missing the beauty that's found in older faces. The lines in these faces are etched with character and they tell stories of joy, sadness, love, loss – all the things these eyes have seen in their journey through life.

Here are some of the older faces I’ve been privileged to photograph.

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Madre Mago

It’s hard to imagine this 78-year-old Carmelite nun carrying dead bodies through the streets of Mexico, but that’s one of the things Madre Mago (Sister Marguerite) can add to her resume. Her niece Teresa, who was a young girl at the time, was stunned by the sight of her aunt dragging corpses through the streets of Cotija. When young Teresa asked her aunt why she would do such a thing, Madre Mago responded simply: “They died. Someone has to move them.”

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I noticed this old gentleman fumbling with his crumpled napkin and a handful of coins in a coffee shop. He seemed disoriented. I started talking to him and learned that this was the poet Maurice Odgen – the author of The Hangman, a famous poem that was written in 1951 and which has been taught in schools for more than a half century. Maurice’s short-term memory had eroded, but he could still quote every word of his powerful poem condemning social complacency in the face of evil.

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Sister Eleanor and Sister Kathy

These two nuns, both in their 80s, are the last two nuns living in the convent at Carondelet High School in California. More than 100 nuns lived at the convent over the last 50 years, but as fewer young women entered sisterhood, the numbers dwindled. When I heard that Sister Eleanor (wearing the red sweater) was diagnosed with a late-stage cancer, I offered to take their portraits as a gift to the school. 

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Gary is an 80-something painter and jazz musician. He met musical legends like Louis Armstrong and he led the lifestyle you'd expect from a musician in the 1960s (many of whom didn’t live to talk about it.) In his later years, he’s focused more on painting and meditation than on music, and you’ll see well-thumbed paperbacks of spiritual classics strewn about his home. If I live to be 80-something, I hope to have half of this man's creative energy and love for life.

Here's an idea for you. If you see an older face today -- maybe it's someone you know and love, or maybe it's someone you've never met before -- take a good look at that face. Listen to the stories this person has to tell. And, if you're both in the mood, take a picture to capture the dignity in that face. 

Want to See More Faces?

From bartenders to Buddhist monks, I've photographed interesting people of all ages. Click on this "People" gallery to see their portraits.

I'd Love to Hear From You.

Your feedback is welcome, and I invite you to send me an email using the CONTACT page on my website. Thanks for reading.