The aging image finds eternal life in Becki Rutta’s newest photography series, “Women Among Us: Portraits of Strength,” on display at LeMoyne Arts through Oct. 28.
Beautiful, bold, and old
Women are expected to be many things: intelligent, sassy, wealthy, fertile, funny, flirty, humble, a feminist with a soft spot for men, and above all, young. No pressure!
Between countless filters and airbrushing, what a photo shows regarding age is a fallacy. Programs used by photographers and cinematographers manipulate light, hue, saturation, and, in turn, the viewers’ perspective. It is a conscious artistic choice to bypass manipulation, stay true to the subject’s natural state, and create an honest image. Thus, to be bare is to be brave, and to be brave is to be beautiful.
Photographer Becki Rutta captures the bold beauty of aging beings in a continuation of her 2019-2021 series, Women Among Us: Portraits of Strength.
With 20 new portraits, this 2023 exhibition highlights local, accomplished women age 65 or older. “As women age, their relevance seems to shift. They are pushed into the background. I am hoping this work brings older women to the forefront,” says Rutta. “I wanted their age to be apparent, not covered up.” Rutta hopes these images leave viewers questioning what aging looks like today. How can we reconcile beauty with the wear and tear of a life filled with meaningful achievements and worthy contributions?
Rutta’s talent for capturing images was nurtured by her father at a young age. Gifted a trusty Canon AE1 35mm film camera, she began an artistic career that ultimately earned her a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master of Fine Arts in photography.
Through the art of photography, Rutta found herself exploring the world visually through light. She felt blessed that her career began during the initial fall of analog photography and the rise of digital. It allowed her photography to benefit from the best of both worlds. However, Rutta admits, “There is still nothing quite like the experience of standing in front of a big, beautiful print.”
The ability to transform and evolve trained Rutta’s eye, and she developed a process that values a combination of form and emotion. Like a painter, a photographer approaches a portrait with a unique vision that will change depending on the shot.
For Rutta, portraits are an intimate collaboration involving healthy compromises of trust between the camera and the subject. The environment also becomes a presence in the picture, the light emanating from the light fixtures and the way natural light peaks through a plant or hat, all influence the power radiating from the subject of the portrait. “I also leave room for accidental occurrences in my work — such as the cat unexpectedly meandering into the frame,” chuckles Rutta.
In her recent environmental portraits, Rutta favored natural lighting. She allowed her subjects to choose a location they felt comfortable and familiar with. The women shared about themselves while Rutta spontaneously shot throughout.
Within this space, Rutta searched for the idiosyncrasies that make the woman in the portrait who she is. “I’ve aimed to include these individuating aspects of the environments inhabited by my subjects: beakers in the lab, paintings in the studio, an inspirational bookshelf, a child hiding behind a curtain,” says Rutta. “I am looking for personality and uniqueness to shine through.”
A series to savor
“Women Among Us” displays larger-than-life images of women printed in black and white on a large 30×45 canvas. Rutta chose each element with purpose. By printing in black and white and using lower camera angles to divert the gaze, she emphasizes the value of multiple stages of life. Rutta collaborated with the Poet Laureate of the Big Bend and novel writer Mary Jane Ryals, along with published poet and co-director of Anhinga Press, Carol Lynne Knight.
The feminine energy surrounding Rutta these past four years has profoundly impacted her ideas on womanhood and motherhood. Creating and curating the exhibition gave her a cosmic connection to a community of women beautifying the Big Bend area.
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On Thursday, Sept. 28, the exhibit opened at LeMoyne Arts to rave reviews. Events continue throughout October with an Artist Talk and Round Table Discussion scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 12, from 5:00-6:30 p.m. The night will culminate with a concert featuring the sounds of Folk, Blues, R&B, and Americana music by They Came From The Same!
Rutta invites visitors to view the photographs of these dynamic local women as they talk about the origin of the collection, the creative process, and answer questions from appreciative viewers.
If you go
What: Women Among Us: Portraits of Strength | Artist Talk & Round Table
When: Through Oct. 28, from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. | Oct. 12, 5-6:30 p.m.
Where: LeMoyne Arts, 125 N. Gadsden St.
Cost: Events are free for LeMoyne Arts members and children under 12, $5 for non-members
Contact: 850-222-8800/ firstname.lastname@example.org; visit lemoyne.org
Dr. Christy Rodriguez de Conte is the feature writer for the Council on Culture & Arts (COCA). COCA is the capital area’s umbrella agency for arts and culture (tallahasseearts.org).