Sometimes, when I’m feeling brave, I’ll take a peek at my nude 71-year-old body in the mirror. I’ll critically study my drooping breasts and underarms, torso that more resembles a pot-belly stove than a washboard, and dimpled legs. Doesn’t make an alluring picture, I think. Or would it? My aging body may not look like it did when I was 40, or even 50, but aside from the fact that it wouldn’t hurt if I shed 20 pounds, it’s my body and why shouldn’t I like it? It may be far from “perfect,” but who really gets to decide what perfect means anyway? Isn’t beauty supposed to be in the eye of the beholder?
“Women don’t accept what we see in the mirror like men do. A man can be fat, paunchy and have no hair, and he’ll look at his image and think he’s a stud,” said 69-year-old cardiologist-turned-photographer Judith Monteferrante. Funny, but sadly true. So, Judith decided to make it her mission to help aging women “feel comfortable in their own bodies” by publishing a book of nude photographs of real women over 50 years old. The Nude Matured: Body and Spirit features women “who accept their bodies, even if they weren’t genetically blessed and don’t have gym memberships,” Judith told me.
“As a cardiologist, I shared the daily life experiences of my patients, with all their joys, sorrows, and fears as well as the adrenaline rush of life and death crises. I watched their struggles with intimacy, loneliness, and vulnerability, and it has changed me,” Judith beautifully states in the introduction to the book.
“The Nude Matured project explores the hidden beauty of aging and the soft sophistication of the beautiful older woman, accepting and often celebrating her desirability in this image-driven age of unachievable perfection,” she explains.
It was stimulating to talk to Judith, and to learn how her project evolved. She, and her book, will make you think about your body differently, if you don’t already do.
Please tell us a little about your career before you became a photographer.
“After secretarial high school I got a master’s degree in nursing, practiced for five years, and then went to medical school and became a cardiologist. I was the first female cardiologist in Westchester County, NY.”
What interested you about becoming a cardiologist?
“I became a cardiologist because of air conditioning. After nursing school in Buffalo, I went into pediatric nursing in the pediatric medical surgical unit at Buffalo General Hospital. I had to wear gowns and and give medication to children under 12 months old. The unit had no air conditioning, and there was so much humidity in Buffalo because it’s on a lake. I couldn’t do it anymore, so I went to the cardiology unit, which had air conditioning because they didn’t want the heat to stress the patients. After working there I wanted to go to medical school for cardiology.”
How did you go from cardiology to photography?
“When I retired nine years ago, at 60, my husband wanted to move to Gloucester, MA, where we had a home for 25 years, but I didn’t want to get another license and start another practice. I wanted a change, but to feel comfortable about taking another path.
“I grew up in an artistic family. My mother did arts and crafts, and my father was an art director for an ad agency on Madison Avenue who taught me how to see, and explain what I felt when I looked at something. I had been a photographer for quite a while, so I decided to apply to the School of Visual Arts in New York, and I got in. There I learned digital skills, marketing, processing and printing.”
Why did you decide to photograph nude older women?
“I do a lot of still life and floral photography. I really love flowers. But when I thought I’d submit dramatically photographed florals for my master’s thesis at SVA, my professor discouraged me. So, I started doing older nudes, with flowers as props. John Coplan, a British photographer, did bold nude self portraits when he was in his late 70s, but no one had looked at nude older women. All the major books of nude photography showed beautiful, younger women.
“Why couldn’t I make older women look beautiful just by the way I photographed them? I didn’t want to use perfect models. I didn’t want to touch up anyone. I didn’t get rid of cellulite. I wanted to show the women the way they were, and to use light to caress them. Different types of lighting brought out different aspects of each woman. The women felt wonderful about themselves. They were proud of their bodies.
“Another student, who was photographing young male and female dancers, and I rented a studio together. He’d be my assistant one day and I’d be his the next day. His nudes would walk around naked all day, flaunting their sexuality, and the mine wore robes.
“We shared the award for best student that year.”
Where did you find the women to photograph?
“A 68-year-old woman came through the school’s modeling agency, and she got all the other women, many of whom were art models and knew each other. One woman was undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer, and she wanted to show how important it is to be accepting of your body.”
Did you have a mentor?
“My mentor was Robert Farber, who photographed gorgeous models and used soft lighting in his book The Natural Beauty. I liked his work and called and asked him to be my advisor, and he said sure. I met with him many, many times. He was an inspiration.”
So, your book was originally published nine years ago?
“I self published the book in 2009, but added a few new photos for the updated version, which is from Lulu Publishing. This edition shares the thoughts and emotions felt by the women during the project. One woman said: ‘Women have to get over the fact that they think being perfect is so important. They have to get over it! Being genuine and understanding is very important.’”
Do you still live in Gloucester?
“My second husband of 30 years and I live on the water in Gloucester for half the year and in Scottsdale, AZ, for the other half. He was a plastic surgeon who ran a burn reconstruction unit.”