Photojournalist Ellen Warner visits campus
Warner spoke about her most recent book and the lessons she took away from the project.
Brandeis University Press recently published photojournalist and portrait photographer Ellen Warner’s book entitled “The Second Half: Forty Women Reveal Life After Fifty.” For the past fifteen years, Warner has been studying how women from multiple cultures experience the second half of their life. She then documented their stories through black and white portraits and interviews. In collaboration with the Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University Press hosted an artist talk, book signing, and art exhibition curated by Olivia Baldwin on Thursday, Sept. 29.
Despite being a first-time author, Warner’s book sold out in the first 10 days and has been incredibly well-received by The Washington Post, W Magazine, and MSNBC for the empathy, insight, and diversity portrayed in her photographs and interviews.
Warner was inspired to write the book in part to answer the question: What is it like to be 80, or 90, or 106, the age of the oldest women she interviewed?
In “The Second Half,” Warner compiled narratives of forty women from all walks of life — a Tuareg nomad, a Spanish flamenco dancer, an American manicurist, and one of the first female neurologists in Saudi Arabia, to name a few.
Warner traveled all over the world to collect their testimonies. “I hate to go to a place, and not feel like I am somehow a part of it,” she said during the artist talk. “The nice thing about this project is that wherever you go, there are women to photograph.”
Warner explained that she especially enjoys photographing writers and artists because “there is always something at work in the eyes of the creative mind,” elaborating that she is interested in discovering those ideas.
The women featured in the book shared what they learned and valued in the first half of their lives that was helpful in the second half, as well as any advice they would offer young women today. Warner found many interviewees through recommendations she received from friends in different countries.
One of the women she spoke with is an 86-year-old French resistance leader named Odette Walling. “My advice to younger women is to accept that you are getting older. Nothing is more annoying than women who want to play 20-years-old when they are aging. One has to age gracefully. It isn’t always easy,” Walling said.
Another interviewee, Christine Ockrent, aged 62, is the first female TV anchor in France. “My advice is to keep at it; never complain, never explain,” she said.
Tamasin Day-Lewis, an acclaimed filmmaker and food critic as well as sister to British actor Daniel Day-Lewis, also shared her story with Warner: “The older I’ve become, the more I’ve been paring away. It’s like cooking; when you are young, you make incredibly complicated dinners. Nowadays, I give somebody something incredibly simple, but the ingredients are better.”
During the Q&A portion of the event, Warner emphasized the main lessons she learned during the process of writing this novel. Firstly, “whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability.” She shared that this is a lesson she wishes to pass onto her own children.
Another piece of advice that left an impression on her was that “when you are younger, you think you can do this and that. In reality, you have to choose between this or that, but it is not a sad choice.”
Lastly, Warner said, “it is so much easier to be judgmental when you are younger, but you will regret those judgments as you grow older.”
Warner also talked about her stylistic choices in “The Second Half,” such as the use of black and white photographs. “For portraits, somehow colors are so distracting,” she said. In her compositions, Warner prioritizes balance, explaining that she “look[s] for ways to evoke the mystery of a subject through expression, pose, and relationship to the background.”
Warner’s other photojournalism projects mainly focus on Indigenous cultures. She began her career in 1969, photographing in China, Iran, East Africa, India, and Europe. After a 10-year hiatus to raise her children, she resumed her work with a concentration on portraits. In 1997, Warner began writing travel articles that have been published in The New York Times, Travel and Leisure, and The Traveller. She also photographs author portraits for publishing houses in New York and London.
When asked about any future projects, Warner shared that she has begun interviewing men over the age of 50 for a potential sequel to “The Second Half.”