Here’s a “wow, time really flies, doesn’t it?” realization: The Women’s March took place about three years ago, with the #MeToo movement revving up a few months later. With inspiration from both events, Pedro Oliveira spent two years on a gorgeous imagery of beautiful women for a photo essay “Beyond the 60th Sense.”
The  Women’s March and the #MeToo movement were the events that inspired me to start this photo essay. I have always been closer to people much older than I am. My late best friend was 73, my agent is in her 50s (please don’t kill me, Judy), my producer is in his 80s, and most of my close friends are at least 30 years older than I am. So, this insane idea that, once you pass certain age, you’re no longer a viable contributor to society really hits home for me.
In a woman’s case, it’s even worse! There’s a twisted concept that beauty (external, at least) belongs to youth. That’s just a flat-out misconception, and that’s what I wanted to show people.
The project began modestly enough, with Pedro utilizing his immediate network to get things up and running. A couple of social media posts later, Pedro had a queue of potential subjects eager to participate.
I started with Eve, a waitress at the diner where my best friend and I used to have breakfast. The second subject was Tammy Linn, the studio owner of the place I used to shoot before I had my own studio.
After I finished these two sessions, I posted them on my Instagram and on Facebook photography groups and asked my audience if they knew women who had interesting stories to share. I received dozens more leads.
Though a photographic endeavor, words are vital to the impact of Pedro’s work — the women’s words, to be precise. Pedro had a broad outline for conversation topics. He also made sure to let his subjects discuss what was most important to them.
Each photo session was different, and they lasted as little as 30 minutes or as long as 3-5 hours. It all depended on the situation. Similarly, the conversations with them would take different paths.
The conversations ranged from sexual harassment to work equality to mental health to body shaming, among other things. Each image is accompanied by the woman’s words on a given subject.
“I am no longer looking for love. Men don’t want me,” Cherryl says, while I photograph her. I, surprised, ask her why men wouldn’t want to date her. At this point, I am genuinely curious.
“A few years ago, doctors were suspicious I had breast cancer. It turned out not to be cancer. But the many exams I had to go through left me with scars. One of the men I dated told me straight to my face, ‘You have such an ugly body'” she tells me with a disappointed voice.
Pedro listened to some heartbreaking stories while completing this work. In one story a woman shared that her son had committed suicide just two weeks before she sat for her portrait. Pedro was able to elicit the trust needed to get these brave women to do this kind of project, one where each subject shared her vulnerabilities visually and verbally. The project, predictably, gained a lot of traction around the world, in Spain, Brazil, and Germany, and was set to be exhibited in the U.S., with international shows a distinct possibility. Regardless, “Beyond the 60th Sense” has made waves around the world. For Pedro the most rewarding part is that the process enthralled his subjects and his hometown.
All of the women loved it. Some were apprehensive about seeing how the general public will react to it. These are regular women who are not used to seeing themselves in museum exhibits or international magazines. So, it’s always a hoot when I get to tell them, ‘hey, you’re in Spain/Germany/Brazil today.’ They proudly shared this with friends and online, and that makes me happy and proud for doing a project that brought them joy.
When a personal project that is close to the photographer’s heart gets on the pages of international magazines, there’s just no way you won’t feel happy and proud — especially when outlets like Der Spiegel cover it.
It was also special that The Oregonian took interest in the project. It actually made me emotional that people in my own city would get to see my work.
Isabel Pontes-Ribeiro, the 105-year-old woman in Brazil, when asked about the secret to living that long, couldn’t give me an answer. Instead, between laughs, she gave me her take on aging:
I smoked into my 80s, always ate pork, and did everything I felt like. It has more to do with genetics and happiness than anything else.
See more of Pedro’s work on his website!