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Sherri Richards, Published March 16 2012

Exploring beauty beyond boundaries of age

HOUSTON – Jeff Myers’ then-girlfriend wanted a picture of herself naked before everything “went south.”

They went into his Houston photography studio, where more than just a nude photo developed.

Myers, a Fargo native, came up with the idea for “40 over 40,” a photo exhibit that debuts to the public today during Houston’s biennial FotoFest. It’s his first solo exhibit.

The project features black-and-white nudes of 40 women older than the age of 40. The exhibit shows the inherent beauty women older than 40 have, Myers says, regardless of their physical appearance. It’s a beauty that comes from life experience and accomplishments.

He stresses that in this context, it’s not erotica, but art. “The female form has always been admired and worshipped in some form of art. I took it to that level with the photography,” he says.

Myers said it took four and a half years to complete, as he didn’t actively recruit women to participate. He simply put the word out and took photos of the first 40 volunteers.

“If you’re Angelina Jolie and you signed up at No. 41, I’d tell you no,” he says.

Myers was struck by the reasons women wanted to pose. Some wanted to validate their beauty for themselves. Others were encouraged by a spouse. For many, it was an item of their “bucket list.”

Some of the women survived breast cancer, but lost their breasts. Some have gone through divorce. They’ve raised children. The youngest participant had just turned 40, the oldest is now 58. Myers calls them the “Fab 40.”

“These women have claimed this thing for themselves. This is as much theirs as it is mine,” he says.

Therese Flaherty of Houston is one of the 40 women. She’s known Myers for 30 years. As he was embarking on the project, he called Flaherty, a fellow Catholic, to see if she thought it was morally sound.

“I was so excited about the project I said something like, ‘My clothes are off, I’m on my way,’ ” Flaherty says, with a hearty laugh.

A year after having her portrait taken, Flaherty was diagnosed with breast cancer. She says her photo is a reminder to accept her body and its scars as part of her journey.

“That was me before and here’s me after,” she says. “I may have some scars here and there, but I’m still alive.”

Myers is donating 25 percent of profits to Pink Door, a Houston charity benefiting cancer survivors. The Museum of Cultural Arts, Houston, which will display the exhibit through April 17, also receives a portion of the proceeds.

Myers produced five numbered collections of the 40 prints. The first set was broken up, one print going to each of the models. The remaining four sets are for sale, priced at $80,000 each, Myers says.

Myers makes his living as a commercial photographer. He takes photos of high-end real estate in Houston and has done work for professional sports teams and the oil industry.

A 1974 graduate of Shanley High School, he studied photography for two years at North Dakota State University, before transferring to the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology. He moved to Houston in 1978. His parents, R. Tracy and Dianne Myers, still live in Fargo.

Mark Strand, now the head of the mass communications department at Minnesota State University Moorhead, taught Myers at NDSU. Strand says Myers clearly knew what he wanted to do when he was young.

“The ‘40 over 40’ project is a good example of an ambitious photographer taking time out to do something new,” Strand says.

“There’s nothing salacious about them,” Strand says about the prints. “They’re studies in form, lighting and humanity and what happens to all of us and our bodies over time.”

Rhonda Radford-Adams, co-founder of the Museum of Cultural Arts Houston and one of the “40 over 40” models, says the project reminded her to slow down and celebrate life in the moment.

“I think 40 is a pinnacle age,” she says. “You don’t understand what you’ve got at the moment until you’ve gone beyond that and seen it and can look back and appreciate it. I have a greater sense of appreciation from the standpoint of knowing I’m not going to stop growing. … As long as I’m here, I can celebrate that.”

Myers says he became a lot smarter about women through the project. “I’m not an expert, but I’ve learned to better understand women, understand the subtle nuances they have,” he says.






Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556

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