In the photo project Age: The Grandmother Project, eight models—all of them grandmothers—make it clear that true beauty is timeless.
by Andrea Rice | photographs by Jillian Clark | hair and makeup by Jessica Davis
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It started as a dialogue about body positivity between two boundary-pushing friends and fashion industry collaborators, and led to an open casting call soliciting Triangle grandmothers for a stylized photoshoot. The concept: to portray a new image of older women that reframes outmoded beauty standards.
Shot in an intimate apartment in downtown Raleigh, Age: The Grandmother Project is the brainchild of photographer Jillian Clark and Jessica Davis, the makeup artist behind North Raleigh’s Awakened Beauty. “I was sold on this project as soon as she texted the word grandma!” Davis says. “I don’t want our society to ever confuse ‘old’ with not being beautiful.”
There’s no question that each of these eight grandmothers—whose ages ranged from 45 to 93 at the time of the shoot—felt beautiful that day. Each styling session, from hair to makeup to wardrobe, generated laughter and chatter. For some, the final looks were met with a swell of emotion as they smiled at themselves in the mirror.
“Everyone deserves to feel beautiful, or more importantly, everyone deserves to feel unique,” Clark says. “When they showed up with their families and grandchildren, you could tell they were so proud of the legacy they created,” Davis says. In a world that obsesses over anti-aging, Age: The Grandmother Project offers a refreshing perspective on natural beauty. “These ladies are proof that beauty comes in any age, skin tone or background,” Davis says. “They helped to teach me that beauty is about having fun and keeping your heart open.”
Neither Clark and Davis foresaw how emotional the project would become for everyone involved. “I know it meant a lot to the families,” Clark says. “I hope these photos continue to make people smile for a long time and inspire anyone to get in front of a camera at least once in their life.”
“It was so cool seeing how everyone reacted to their final look,” said Clark. “You never know what your subjects will bring if you just give them a little wiggle room and creative space! Each grandmother was styled from an assortment of odds and ends that Clark and Davis found around town, as well as items from their own closets and their subjects’ wardrobes. “I am inspired by how fashion makes me feel,” said Mehrangiz “Mehri” Olfati. “That mentality has guided my fashion choices every day of my life.” Two years ago, when Olfati was out on a neighborhood walk, she was stopped by a group of musicians who noticed her style and asked her to be in their music video. “I don’t know the name of the group nor have I seen the final result, but it was a lot of fun,” she says.
Li Yi Zhen
Davis says Li Yi Zhen arrived at the shoot fully styled and ready to go, Chanel bag in tow, fresh from a blowout that sported a new short haircut. “She has so much style and confidence—and she knew it!” Davis says.
Finch brought her own makeup artist, her daughter Shannel Campbell.
Vrana enjoys gardening and beekeeping in her leisure time and says Audrey Hepburn is her fashion icon, wore her beekeeper suit for her portrait. “I love my hobby as a beekeeper,” Vrana says. “My husband and grandchildren participate, and I love teaching the children about bees and the process of how the hive thrives and helps the environment. The suit seemed like the perfect wardrobe.”
Emily Graban, the granddaughter of Grace “Gracie” Waldron shared a few words about her grandmother, who recently passed. “My grandmother wasn’t afraid to try anything, and she’d accept any dare or challenge,” Graban says. “She used to say, ‘If you always play by the rules, you’ll miss a lot of life!’” Graban remembers her grandmother’s love for film and art; her regal, classic fashion sense. “I have a handful of her items in my closet now,” Graban says. She says that her grandmother always knew how to choose the pieces that gave her the most confidence. Her fashion M.O. was to dress smart, find a balance between understated and striking, and, of course, break a few rules. Graban recalls the special moments of watching her grandmother interact with her own son, even in those final days. “She’d light up when her grandkids or great-grandbabies were with her, cooing and fawning all over them,” Graban says. “It’s when she was her sweetest, and so fun
to be around.”
Franzen is the daughter of Elvira Finch and the youngest grandmother in the series. She says that watching her daughters become mothers has been one of her life’s greatest gifts. “There is no limit to the amount of joy and love each granddaughter has brought into my life,” she says. Franzen’s confident sense of style is inspired by fashion icons like Coco Rocha and Carmen Dell’Orefice. She says that being fabulous is about embracing how she looks and feels.
Davis recalls the natural poise of Alexander, left, who hails from California, as she sat in her makeup chair, as if she were a pro. “Robyn showed me that she was totally feeling herself and her confidence about the way she looked,” Davis says. “She kept saying how beautiful she felt and how much fun it was for her to spend the whole day with her granddaughter.” Davis says it was during Alexander’s shoot when the realization hit that we are all just girls, no matter what our age. “It’ll always be fun to dress up, put on lipstick, and act silly with our best girlfriends close by,” she says. Alexander’s granddaughter, Taylor Muehlfelder, said her grandmother planned to sit outside of her apartment after the shoot so her good hair and makeup wouldn’t go to waste. “She’s always been pretty stylish,” Muehlfelder says. “She was always made up even if she was just around the house.”
Salang arrived at the studio with her husband, granddaughter and great-grandson, who was an infant at the time. “She mentioned that her hair was short because it had recently been growing back from chemotherapy, and her face beamed when we told her how amazing she looked with short hair,” Davis says. “As Jillian was photographing her, I looked over and saw that her husband had tears streaming down his face. He was smiling and saying, ‘that’s my beautiful wife!’” Salang’s approach to style is simple: “I always feel comfortable with myself, with how I look and with my own self-expression. Happiness is being at peace with who you are and what you have, and knowing that you are accepted and loved in spite of any imperfections.”