On Being Happy – and Beautiful – at One Hundred

Erna Kalies (b.1908), Walter Weinman (b.1909), and Anna Ernst (b.1908)
Erna Kalies (b.1908), Walter Weinman (b.1909), and Anna Ernst (b.1908)

As a makeup artist people usually ask me to make them look as young as possible. And I get it – any of us facing a camera will want to look our best.

Bat what about when we’re old? I’m not talking about “40 is the new 30” old….many of us will live into our eighties or nineties. And some of us live to be a hundred. Will we want to look like we’re still in the “37 forever” club?

Margarethe Deichmann (b.1911)
Margarethe Deichmann (b.1911)

Photographer and art director Karsten Thormaehlen has been photographing centenarians in his native Germany and around the world for the past several years, and has published several books about them.

He spoke to Kinfolk magazine, who featured these photos, about what his older models have taught him about living life:

“They have outlived all of their friends—even their children sometimes. They have no idea why it happened to them. Although they come from completely different cultures, there are many similarities in the ways these very old people live: They live a modest life, never changed their residence and are helpful to the community. They feel needed.”

Elsie Pauli, (b.1911)
Elsie Pauli, (b.1911)

His models were also up for it:

Originally they thought I was crazy! But in the latest series, they were all excited. They feel flattered and enjoy the attention as it makes them feel special... They were the best models I ever had! Vanity seems to be a genetic determination of mankind though—it never goes away.”

Ok, so good to know that we’ll still be vain, even if we make it into the impressive years. But it’s not just the golly-gee-whiz-these-people-are-old factor that makes these photographs beautiful. Photographed with tenderness and skill, they show the beauty of a human face that has lived through a century of families, relationships, work, and world events. And here’s a little secret: beauty photography isn’t really about Photoshopping out all the blemishes – it’s about lighting and care, and enjoying your subject.

Katchen Erny (b.1909)
Katchen Erny (b.1909)

We hear talk about aging with grace and dignity as if it’s some kind of consolation prize for losing our youth – but what if grace and dignity are precious gems we earn by learning what’s important throughout our lives?


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