He photographs the ‘silver-haired set’ in all their flamboyant, fashion-forward glory. Meet Ari Seth Cohen – the man responsible for making age – and ageing – something to be celebrated.
On a typical day – if such a thing exists – Ari Seth Cohen, the 33-year-old blogger, photographer, author and filmmaker, takes to the streets of New York armed with just his camera and a smile. “Excuse me,” he says, as he approaches a particularly well-dressed woman about to cross the road. “You look so elegant. May I take your photo?” He takes a picture and the woman beams, delighted – and flattered – to have been recognised for her fashion choices. Truth be told, it’s probably made her day.
Street style photography is nothing new – there are hundreds of blogs online documenting the outfits of trendy young things posing – and pouting – as though their lives depend on it. But where Ari’s story takes an interesting – and inspiring – twist, is that he turns his lens exclusively to the over-60s. He publishes his photos on his blog Advanced Style (advancedstyle.blogspot.com), which a couple of years ago, spawned a book of the same name – and more recently, a movie (available on DVD from Amazon), which follows the lives of seven of Ari’s eccentric subjects. It’s a bold celebration of individual style, and proof that life gets better – and more colourful – with age.
Take one of Ari’s muses, Illona Royce Smithkin, whose bright orange hair, matching eyelashes, parrot-bright outfits and indomitable spirit have her turning heads wherever she goes. It’s impossible not to smile when you see her, so obvious is her flair, her sense of humour and irrepressible positivity. The 94-year old artist, performer and raconteur only launched her career as a cabaret singer in her 80s, saying, "The last ten years have been the best of my life. I am more confident and comfortable in my own skin.” Since meeting Ari – on the street, like most of his Advanced Style ladies – she’s also since starred in a sunglasses advertisement for iconic New Zealand fashion designer Karen Walker – a refreshing and creative departure from the doe-eyed, unattainably flawless young models who usually grace the pages of glossy magazines.
Ari’s respect and admiration for the older generation started early. Growing up, his grandmothers were his best friends as well as being the embodiment of elegance. So it’s fitting that he should be the one to give the over-60s a platform to celebrate the fact that they still have plenty to offer – perhaps more so now than ever before, thanks to a long-cultivated sense of self and confidence.
“I have never considered “old” a bad word. To be old is to be experienced, wise and advanced,” says Ari. “The ladies I photograph challenge stereotypical views on age and ageing. They are youthful in mind and spirit.”
At a time when there’s such constant fixation on youth, it’s wonderful to see ageing portrayed with such fun and fearlessness – which is exactly the way it should be. And no matter whether you’re 60, 70, 80 or beyond, you can be every bit as bright – both literally and figuratively – as any of the people who’ve been snapped by Ari’s lens. All you have to do is dress with pride and make your eyes sparkle – then, not only is the world your oyster, but the street can be your catwalk. Or as Illona puts it, “Feel beautiful inside, and you will feel beautiful outside.” And that, for one, is a universal truth.