“It is sacred to this generation of women; never a luxury, but a necessity,” Robbie Kaye told me as I reviewed her Beauty of Wisdom project. “I wanted to capture the styles and techniques of these hairdos which will be obsolete soon, and probably never worn again.”
As a Fine Art instructor, I encourage my workshop students to develop themes as a central tenet to exploring and creating Fine Art Photography. Robbie Kaye is a photographer I’ve watched emerge onto the scene as a documentarian. She is an inspiration for all who struggle with theme development. You can see this project here or here. If you Google “Beauty of Wisdom” you will pick up several good reviews.
This project started as one of those, “A Day at. . .” series. After whimsically exploring, “A day at the antique mall”, then the junkyard, Robbie wound up in a beauty parlor of older women, an experience that changed everything. At first, she thought this might be a humorous project. She quickly found that these ladies were fearless, beautiful, and dedicated to their hairstyles and hairstylists. The ‘styles’ reflect the ladies’ self images, and the relationships with their hairstylists serves to confirm those self images. It would appear that the hairstylist relationship is akin to having a good bartender at your favorite pub.
“After that first day in the beauty parlor, I realized that I wanted to get a wider demographic of women, not just women in large cities. So, I hit the road and traveled around the country, photographing women 70 or older in beauty parlors. This was an intense trip because I knew that these wonderful women were not going to be around forever, and I wanted to preserve that personal connection between the old fashion beauty parlor and the subject.”
Hitting the road is not new for Robbie. In her first career as a musician, she was on the road consistently. The group’s bass player at the time was also its photographer and documentatian. In time, the bass-playing photographer went one way, and Robbie went another. It was not until she toured Spain 3 years later that she picked up the camera and fell in love with photography. Returning home, she enrolled in USC with majors in English and photography, a new student who was twice the age of her fellow classmates.
Robbie describes herself as a photojournalist. With her straightforward, disarmingly simple snapshot approach, she is able to connect with women of a sunset generation. This meets her goal of documenting a generation that needs visibility. She tells me that, because she was turning fifty when she started the project, she was beginning to think about the ageing process on a personal level. She observed how Americans seem to have an internal think mechanism that says “old is ugly.” Robbie’s project reveals a different reality. “You have to remember,” she remarked, “these women were getting their hair done before electric curlers, home hair dryers, and teasing combs. Many of them have seen the same hairstylist for 30, 40, or 50 years. This is ritual to the core.“
Robbie’s engaging personality allowed her to gain entry to these locations and permission to photograph her subjects. She captures a latent kindness in these faces, vacant memories at times, and bemused expressions as the women sit under dryers that spew hot tornados onto tightly wound curls. Look at Blossom’s ‘power do’ and the solvent, expectant face that tells us that the years have gone by, but nothing has really changed. See the hidden and reserved satisfaction on the faces of Rose and Virginia, and note the conic shape of the dryers, devices that could have come from the Mad Men TV set. I see engaged looks and timeless conversation in the Southern Ladies image. Robbie truly captures the gold in the golden years.
Robbie is experiencing significant project success, and her images have generated press recognition at the professional and amateur levels. She landed a prime spot in the recent “Month of Photography” show at Smashbox Studios. Her Twitter feed has 10,000 followers and hundreds of contributors as people recognize and appreciate a project that touched a universal theme, The Beauty of Wisdom.
16 thoughts on “Robbie Kaye: Beauty of Wisdom”
Hi from New Zealand, Bob – I enjoyed your insights into Robbie’s project (yes, we’re even following it over here!). I recall my mother saying in her last years that she hated aging because ‘you become invisible’. She shared what a challenging adjustment it was getting used to people walking past you as though you don’t exist. People, she said, have status when they are young and middle aged, but not when they are old, slow moving and rather wrinkled up. I honor Robbie’s inspiring people to see beyond the surface to the real beauty and wisdom in these elderly women. We all, by grace, will be aged one day …
Robbie’s work completely celebrates older women with compelling images
that speak volumes. What a gift she’s given all of us.
Great blog post, Bob! And go, Robbie!! Love the photographs and can’t wait till you have a book!
bestselling author of seven novels including Must Love Dogs, Summer Blowout (about a family of hair salon owners!) and the upcoming Seven Year Switch.
Thks for your BLOG on Beauty of Wisdom. How do i get the book?
I’m going to work with Robbie on the book layout. I wrote image books and I train photographers in post production for Adobe. We will keep you advised on release dates. You may want to visit my web site at http://www.bobkillen.com
Corrected 10,000 blog followers to 10,000 twitter followers.
Thanks Baby Boomer Girl and Beth. I think Robbie’s project has provided a great deal of visibility for golden girls out there (you will always be girls to me!) and I know it is appreciated.
What a lovely gift to the world!
Thank you Bob, for this opportunity to share my work. Your insight is appreciated and so are your encouraging words as a photographer yourself. Coming from you, I am especially honored…
And Jameson and the golden girls, Radha, Beth and Claire, thank you for your continued support that I keep in my pocket like a lucky charm.
May we all be visible for as long as forever may be…
Terrific blog, Bob, about a very touching subject. I remember my mother, didn’t matter which hospital she was in, would always insist on having the beautician come to her room. It seemed to be a ritual that always brought her comfort. Happy Mother’s Day to all these women of beauty. Great job, Robbie.
I recall the smell of the old style perms that my mother used to get and the curlers that seemed as they were the size of road culverts. Eventually we moved into town and she did not have do home perms and was able to use a ‘Beauty Shop.” She stuck with the same hair style crew until she died. My late wife was the same way. Even in her last 60 days she wanted me to take her to the hairstylists shop that she always visited and I dutifully wheeled her in with a wheel chair. An amazing ritual and no doubt men appreciate ladies who take care of their hair and their looks in general. Thank you for your great comments.
Robbie Rocks! Meaningful, inspired wise and beautiful project. I wish my G-ma was here to be in it. Thank you for sharing the wonderful world of BeautyofWisdom ….
What a wonderful way to honor the women who have lived to such an age.
To be able to share their experiences, dreams and pasts with so many is
an honor. It is a blessing and I honor them, Robbie Kaye & Bob Killen.
GO GIRLS GO!
Thank you for your kind comments. This is one of those projects that celebrates something in the lives of our a golden generation.
Thanks Bob, in part for the essay and the writing, but also for your endorsement of this sort of project. I hope she is very successful with it.
“The years have gone by, but nothing has really changed” I loved that. And you won’t really appreciate and understand that, until you reach that time in your life. For me, the older I get, the younger I realize I really am.