Bold Age: Becoming a Model after Fifty
The Zhyzneliub (lit. “life lover”) charity foundation opened the first model agency in Ukraine for people over 50. The project has two goals: to show that beauty does not depend on age in any way and to give older people an opportunity to have additional income.
There are currently 46 models in the agency’s database. “The idea lay on the surface,” Tina Mykhailovska, the founder of the foundation, says. “We often get requests from advertising and production companies looking for characters, but now we just decided to make it into a separate project and to add new faces to our database. This is an opportunity to promote third-age in the country: no matter how old you are, you could be anyone.”
Bird in Flight asked photographers Olga Babich, Sofia Vozniak, and Viktoria Temnova to come up with characters for the future models and photograph them, and also asked the participants of the photoshoot what it was like to be a model after fifty.
Former electrician, seamstress, preschool teacher, 81
— I acted in school plays, but I never thought that I would become a model. However, I have been modeling for 10 years now.
I have three adult children. I was helping raise my grandchildren while my children were studying. Later, when I had more time, I took up dancing again, and performed in a dancing company. One time a director’s assistant approached me at a dancing ground in Hydropark and asked if I wanted to act in a crowd shot. This was how my career as an actress and photo model started.
I am polite to everybody in the shooting crew. It is important to me that the others are polite, too. During the shoot, I am always afraid that I’d spoil the shot — I don’t want them to have to do additional takes because of me. I am always worried because of this.
There are elderly people who are unpleasant to look at — they are untidy and ungroomed. I try to stay in shape. I like hearing compliments. Thanks to the shooting, I feel alive — this is the biggest pleasure.
The most substantial fee I got was 200 dollars. I think, I received it for being in a political ad. I am lucky that my children support me, so it is not hard for me to model for free. The most important thing is that I enjoy the shooting process.
Master of Sports in swimming, 62
— I am not nervous before the shoot, but I was always anxious before a swimming competition. In sports, you have to win, be better than the others. It’s all different at a film set — there are no rivals there.
At 20, you have a nice body and no wrinkles. At 60, it is more difficult to be a model: to look good, you need to make more effort. I am 62, but some say that I look 45.
They used to say that eggs don’t teach hens, but things have changed. Modern youth grew up in the computer era, they know more than we do. In the modeling business, I work with young people all the time, and I am not ashamed to learn something from them.
Professional models know how to stand in front of a camera and how to smile. I do everything intuitively. A shoot is extemporaneous for me. I don’t always like the clothes that I model in, but this is not a big deal.
It is hard to be a professional model in Ukraine. There are good contracts only abroad; I receive almost nothing for the shoots. I am ready to model for free though.
Wood carver, dancer, choir singer, 74
— I am a crowd shots actor, I often appear in TV shows. I do it for free.
One time, I was on a TV show with an esteemed actress as a studio guest. She was talking such nonsense that I felt ashamed. It was then that I realized that I look and talk better than most professional actors.
It is easier to work as a photo model than a film extra: you just stand there, and don’t even need to open your mouth. However, I like to express my opinion, share my experience, so I like TV better.
I think everybody likes to model. I would want to do it all the time.
I draw, I dance, I sing — I like these things. Many people give up on themselves at 60. They have two things left to do — eating and sleeping. Modeling for me is a way to show people how they can live their lives.
Photographer: Olga Babich
Stylist: Masha Siviakova
Make-up: Alina Terletska
Studio: Lightfield Productions
Clothes: Dafna May and SHIFT shop
Master of Sports in Trampolining, 57
— I am a beginner in modeling — this is my second shoot.
I used to train children, and then I worked in a gym. I had to quit to raise my granddaughter. And now I can’t find a job. Sports clubs don’t care about your experience — they won’t hire you if you are older than 45.
They gave me a suit jacket and a dress for the shoot, but I would like to have more clothes. I want people who will see my photographs to like me. During the shoot, I was scared that they were about to tell me: “You are not what we need.” And then I managed to relax. I didn’t expect that it would be that easy.
I enjoy being myself in front of the camera. I like natural beauty — without plastic surgery or botox. Why can only twenty-year-olds be models? There are many beautiful women who are older than fifty.
Former department head in a construction company, 69
— I like movement — I do ballroom dancing, including tango. I often shoot myself. Four years ago, I was first invited to a film set; it was for a Stepan Bandera movie. Since then, I go to castings, appear in music videos and on photo shoots.
I feel calm in front of a camera, I can even parachute jump for a shot. However, when they asked me at one of the castings if I would agree to play a dead man, I refused: I don’t want to lie in a casket.
Castings are the most difficult. Actors are asked to pose and smile. I am bad at controlling my face expression and I can’t smile on demand. I laugh only when I feel like it.
I don’t care whether its a photoshoot or a crowd shot in a movie — the most important is that they pay something. I’ve been retired for ten years now, I don’t have a job. They pay little for photo shoots, you can get more in advertising. One time, I received $100 for a music video — that was my biggest fee.
Former teacher, 60
Over 10 years ago, I saw an ad in the newspaper looking for crowd actors for the Court Cases TV show. I showed up there a couple times, met other actors, started going to other castings — and it just went from there. As of today, I took part in 61 shoots — in episodes of TV series and various shows.
I was impressed that there were people much older than me at the shooting location, and they were bravely trying on various characters. I was a bit embarrassed by the fact that I was a bit chubbier than other grandma models, but it didn’t stop me anyway.
I was most afraid when I found out that I would need to model in a swimsuit. I even thought that I’d been mistaken for somebody else. But at the end of the day, I didn’t need to do it.
I don’t have an education in acting. You can’t work regularly: they need new faces, so sometimes it is a while before they invite you again.
Photographer: Sofia Vozniak
Stylist: Roma Yatsenko
Make-up: Maria Sova
Studio: Lightfield Productions
Retired TV director, 68
— I studied for a TV director. I have recently finished my career and decided to restructure my life somehow. 68 is too early to sit on a sofa doing nothing.
I travel. Several years ago my granddaughter and I went all around Europe together; after that I went to Sri Lanka, because I have always been interested in meditative practices. I shoot and edit movies by myself that I later post on my YouTube channel. I got myself busy with the Internet: I have Instagram, Telegram, several Facebook pages. My article about meditation was recently posted on one American resource.
I decided to put myself on the other side of the camera. This feels great when you are a beauty in front of the lens, and not the film set general. I was not afraid of anybody during the photo shoots, because in my previous life I used to manage 200 people teams.
When I was young, my dream was to become an actress, but I became a director, because it seemed like a more serious thing to do. I like modeling, submitting, becoming a transparent glass. To submit to a creative and young person is a separate kind of pleasure.
It is hard for common people to understand that you can and you should try on other characters. I wear a cap, and I become a brat at once. I wear a blouse and I am a dame. Your suit governs your behavior: how to stand, which pose to strike.
I was excited about the styles they offered me during the shoots. It gives you a lot of energy and even lifts you up.
Working for the camera makes you stay in shape. When I know that I am about to model, I don’t allow myself to be walking around in my pyjamas. Work, and especially work for a camera, is an additional exercise for your brain and a way to prevent illness.
‘Earning with modeling’ is too loud a phrase.
Unskilled worker, musician, photographer, 59
— I work as a photographer, so I am more used to standing on the other side of the lens. This winter, I was photographing a master class of Andrey Vasylyev, the founder of Kommersant. He was saying that many start living full lives only after 60. It was then that I realized that I should try as much as I can.
Since I was young, I was looking at my reflection in the mirror and seeing a ‘content macho man.’ At some point I realized that I’ve outlived it: now I’m not beyond being a Quasimodo for the camera if needs be, the most important thing is that I try something new and unusual.
I don’t model regularly, and I don’t earn anything when I do. However, if someone offered to make it a source of income for me, I don’t think I’d refuse. Sometimes, one of the Kyiv photo school asks me to model for them, I always try to help them.
I likes how the crew worked during Zhyzneliub shoot — everybody was in their place. They thought everything through, even the smallest details: even tied our shoes for us so we didn’t have to bend down.
Journalist, editor, traveler, conceals her age
— I came to Zhyzneliub club last spring — this was how my modeling career started. Before that, I couldn’t dream of being on camera, changing characters, and drawing attention.
Modeling for Must Have clothing brand became my first modeling job. After that I modeled for Helen Marlen. A shoot for Bird in Flight is the fifth in my short modeling career.
I noticed that I like it more and more with every subsequent shoot. I start having more interest, and the wish to be as involved as possible. I was not shy at all when working on this project, but I scold myself a bit for not offering as many ideas for shots as I could have.
It’s nice that you can earn a little at every shoot, but I don’t do it for the money.
I conceal my age for a reason. French women say: I am as old as I look, and not a year more. Women react painfully to getting old, especially to the fact that the number in your passport often does not correspond to how old you feel you are. I know that I manage to look younger than I really am, but I am still used to saying that I am 60+ and it is not that important how many numbers are above this mark.
Photographer: Viktoria Temnova
Stylists: Oksana Pigel, Viktoria Temnova
Make-up: Kateryna Vyshnevetska, Darya Kryshyna
Studio: Lightfield Productions