Artist's Statement

Amber Shields

Visions of Johanne – The Aging Female Body is a 15-year exploration of a woman’s life in her 70s and 80s, a phase that is often invisible in Western culture.

Historically, the aging female body has been marginalized in Western mainstream media. It is rarely seen, much less celebrated, and it remains virtually invisible to younger female generations. This exclusion not only maintains rigid ideas about beauty, ability, and health, but also disempowers and disengages women by stigmatizing a pivotal phase of life. In this series, I wanted to expose and record the physiological, psychological, and sociological experience of the aging woman by photographing my grandmother, Johanne, during the last 15 years of her life.


Born into the Greatest Generation, Johanne was a self-sufficient woman who took pride in her appearance and in the home that she purchased. She achieved the American Dream during an era when women were expected to play a supporting role in a patriarchal society. She overcame an abusive marriage, the stigma of single motherhood, and office politics to become a successful secretary at Conoco Inc. in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

However, Johanne’s strength could not withstand the effects of time. The photographs show the mental and physical barriers Johanne confronted as a result of her experiences with aging and illness. Our close connection and her willing participation enabled me to document intimate moments as she wrestled with macular degeneration, breast cancer, and eventually her own mortality. 

The images we produced touch on themes of identity, family, gender politics, disease, and dangerous coping mechanisms. Amidst the challenges of aging, Johanne faced her difficult reality with a particular beauty and strength. Through documenting her story, I hope that younger generations will gain a greater insight into the female-specific experience of aging.