"I'm hot there!"
Robin Free is admiring a naked photo of herself. In the arty black and white print, the 47-year-old Tomball native is standing with her back to the camera, hand on her hip, hair slightly blowing back like a goddess. She's standing on her toes as if wearing five-inch heels, which she happens to be sporting at the time.
Free is not alone. Other women are showing off naked photos of themselves to friends, family and strangers during a preview earlier this week of "40 Over 40" -- a photography series opening Saturday night at the Museum of Cultural Arts Houston. The show is comprised of portraits of 40 women who are over the age of, yes, 40, wearing nothing but what nature intended.
No one photo is alike -- the willing subjects are of all races and body types, striking unique poses. There's one who has her arms stretched high towards the sky, elongating her body. Another sits with her legs strategically crossed over her lower body, perfectly compositioned. In one long, particularly striking shot, a woman sits with her back to the camera, a tattoo of a bird with its wings outstretched on her lower back subtly visible. There's even a photo of MOCAH founder Rhonda Radford Adams, sitting with her arm back and looking upwards as if having a spiritual experience.
The 40 photos all began with No. 1 -- Tami Shane. Five years ago, Shane was feeling pretty down about her body, but managed to work up the courage to ask a commercial photographer she was seeing at the time to take naked photos of herself before her body "went south."
"I had really bad self-esteem," said Shane, 47, who in her photo is lying on her back, feet straight up in the air, looking at the camera with her finger seductively in her mouth. "But this made me stop comparing myself to everyone else. I'm comfortable in my own skin now."
Jeff Myers, the Houston photographer behind the 40 photos, picked up on something during his shoots with Shane.
"I noticed an aura about her," said Myers. "I thought, do all women over 40 have this aura?"
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And so "40 Over 40" was born. Through social media and word of mouth, Myers found 39 other women willing to shed their clothes for his camera. He didn't ask any -- they all volunteered, and he didn't turn anyone away until he reached 40. Using a single light source against a black background, he'd spend about four hours on each shoot and then comb through the hundreds of photos until he found that perfect one. And he didn't do any touch-ups, either, in case you were wondering.
Among the women in attendance during a preview on Wednesday, it was pretty unanimous. What started out with the mentality "Well, I'm not getting any younger" became transformative, liberating, life-changing. There were no regrets, either, even if some had their reservations at first.
"I should have been No. 2," said Free, who was immediately recruited by her childhood friend, Shane, when the project began, but wound up being the 22nd woman photographed in the series. "It took me until 22 to work up the courage to do it."
"40 Over 40" at Museum of Cultural Arts Houston, 908 Wood Street, March 17 through April 17. For more information, call 713-224-2787 or visit the museum's website.