The Invisible Age:
Photographic Self-Portraits by Women Aged 50-65

This exhibit presents a paradox. The images are self-portraits done by women who feel not only invisible, but at the invisible age. By showing our images here we’re declaring our sense of invisibility, at the same time we’re rendering ourselves, at least fleetingly, visible.

What is the invisible age? To a large extent it’s a phenomenon of our society, which sees and values younger women for their beauty and energy. Our society also sees and values older women for their wisdom and character. But, in the eyes of this same society, the 50ish to 65ish woman is of little value and practically invisible.

But what we’re dealing with is not purely an external phenomenon. The invisible age is also internal. It's an age of transition. The old euphemism "change of life" referring to menopause may actually pinpoint what happens to individual women at this time in their lives. They undergo more than just hormonal changes. There are physical and emotional changes taking place.

For many of us, it can be a time of goodbyes: parents may die; long-term personal partnerships may end; children may be ready to leave home. This time of life can also be an age of new beginnings: new relationships, new career options including retirement, fewer familial obligations. As a result, women at the invisible age often find themselves struggling to redefine themselves in light of all these changes.

The invisible age affects different women in different ways. It would be untrue to say that all women in this age group feel invisible. Some don’t. Others have felt invisible all their lives. Some, who may not feel totally invisible as individuals, sense the invisibility of this age group as a whole. And yet, there are those who believe the premise of the invisible age expresses precisely what they’re experiencing.

We are artists, not social scientists, so we have no means to measure this phenomenon beyond anecdotal evidence. And, we must admit that we used an arbitrary age range in our definition of the invisible age. The timing is not precise. Women at around age 50 notice that something has changed. It happens slowly, almost imperceptibly. Heads no longer turn as we walk down the street, older or younger women are served first, the boss calls on others in meetings, few models in magazines or actresses in movies represent women our age.

We have reached the invisible age. It lasts a decade or more, and around age 65, it changes again—we’ve moved into another stage of life where the fruits of our longevity are valued, and society can see us again. We also begin being more comfortable with all the changes we've undergone and, as a result, we become more comfortable with who we are.

The timing of this exhibit may seem off. After all, Hillary Rodham Clinton just finished an historic run for the White House. Yet, even though she is at the invisible age and became probably the most visible woman of this period in history, her run has not changed the situation for most women thus far. And, though we don't want to make excuses for her failed campaign, there is evidence that the media wasn't willing to accept such a visible invisible ager. Therefore we believe it is exactly the right time for this exhibit.

The work of the 31 women photographers you see represented in this show expresses what it means to us to be at the invisible age. It is a personal expression for each one of us. After all, none of us experience this life passage in exactly the same way. But, perhaps, by emerging from our invisibility, even if only for a short time, we can serve as a symbol and, hopefully, an inspiration for other women of the invisible age who don’t want to be invisible any more.

— The Invisible Age is a traveling exhibit curated by Jan Potts and Beth Kientzle.

We originally curated The Invisible Age for District Fine Arts in Washington, DC. The show was exhibited there in the fall of 2006. It was also on view in the gallery at Sussex County Community College in Newton, NJ, from November 2-December 6, 2007. It will be on view at the RayKo Gallery in San Francisco from September 4-October 10, 2008.

Artists in the original District Fine Arts show included Norma Bernstock, Martine Fougeron, Candace Plummer Gaudiani, Deborah Lattimore, Erin O'Neill, Jan Potts, Nada Savic, Elizabeth Siegfried, Jacqueline Walters and Anita White. Artists whose work was added for subsequent shows include Susan Arthur, Cynthia Batmanis, Niki Berg, Carol Dass, Topher Delaney, Mary Dorsey Wanless, Mary Farmilant, Peg Fredi, Jane Fulton Alt, Martha Grenon, Ingrid Hesling, Jean Locey, Charlotte Niel, Jeanette Palsa, Wendy Paton, Mary Ramain, Barbara Rothman, Aline Smithson, Maurine Sutter, Rebecca Swanson and Ewa Zebrowski.