the real real


I would rather strip naked and pose in the middle of a Manhattan avenue than have a picture of my face taken. That said, here I am in all of my unvarnished glory. This photograph was taken by Bruce Janklow and the process and final outcome is the direct opposite of the Photoshop process; this is hyperrealism.

Bruce Janklow, on his way to Georgia and Armenia as I write this, is a true world traveler and photographer. To see some of his work, look here. Usually, when he shoots people, he takes what he calls street portraits. Like most street photography, it’s quick and dirty. Two strangers, one with a camera, engage or not, for a few seconds. 

This picture of me is a departure. Bruce says:

“I got to wondering what would happen if I actually got to collaborate with subjects, got to know them a bit and was able to take my time? How different would the results be and would I be able to capture something special?”


Bruce and I met one hot day this summer to take my picture. On our walk to Central Park, we talked about ourselves and what we are currently doing. We found a bench and talked some more. Bruce began to take some pictures of me. Generally speaking, I’m a lousy model. In front of a camera, I’m self-conscious, inhibited, and awkward. I take cues like a robot. And I have always believed that I’m not photogenic.  

Needless to say, this experience was both intense and challenging. It was hot, and I was tired from lack of sleep. The photographer was up close and someone I didn’t really know. Nevertheless, I loved this experience and I believe that Bruce did capture something special. This is the real, real me.    

I look at this picture and I think that maybe I shouldn’t have slicked my hair back? I did it purposefully, to show my whole face. I look at the bags under my eyes and think how ironic it is that I’m not prone to having bags under my eyes, usually.


I could go on and on, picking apart every square inch of my face, as I’m sure we all can.


But what’s the point? There are some decidedly ungraceful aspects of aging. I refuse to be sappy and nostalgic about it. I want to look it right in the face. This is the real real.

Would you take part in this process?




  • Mari says:

    You’re my heroine! Everything you said about being photographed is exactly how I feel. There has to be some sort of trust issue involved for me to allow it. That being said, I love the picture. There’s something beautiful beyond comparison when it’s real and unfiltered.

    • Anita Irlen says:

      Mari, wow, thank you! Oh yes, trust is certainly an issue when it comes to being photographed. I think it has to do with being really seen by the other. I suppose I’ve always been a fan of the real and unfiltered, at some level at least. Thanks for the comment. Anita

  • Anita, this comes at the perfect time for me. Yesterday, I had to renew my driver’s license at the DMV. I had my picture taken without my glasses on. Real and unfiltered! At first scary and then acceptance. Thank you for your post!

    • Anita Irlen says:

      Mary, ugh, why is acceptance so hard for us? It is for me. Hence all of this courage people think I have mustered… Maybe it’s really just fear? So very complicated. Anita

  • Esther Zimmer says:

    Oh, Anita! I understand your feelings but this photograph is just incredible! I mean it when I say you look amazing, there is a stunning mix of vulnerable and fierce that’s been captured and I’ve got tears in my eyes because I find your willingness to step out of your comfort zone in this way so inspirational. I’m so, so proud to call you my friend! Esther xx

    • Anita Irlen says:

      Esther! thank you and so good to hear from you. Maybe we just need to redefine “comfort zone?” I think as I get older the comfort zone has become too narrow, stifling even. After all, do we all not want to be comfortable with our selves as we are? If not, what does that say about our concept of reality? I love vulnerable and fierce, spot on, that is me. Anita xx

  • Yes! Yes. I just took some quick photos of myself for a workshop assignment, Quick, untouched, no makeup and completely spontaneous. Part of my goal will be to do a visual essay on aging and defining sexy, maybe. But showing the real person and the range of feelings that we “still” have when we’re 60 plus. Not just the Grandma face?
    I love yours.

    • Anita Irlen says:

      Walker, saw your pictures and they are wonderful. I refuse to accept Grandma face. I’ll take intelligent, sexy, and courageous. Do write about aging and “sexy,” so necessary in this current climate. Anita

  • Delia says:

    Yeah well, your eyes say it all. All the life you have lived is recorded in how your body ages, but the fierce spiritual warrior shining from those, even tired, eyes is the essence of beauty and magnificence. Well done,your courage is admirable.

  • jodie says:

    I love this!
    My mom and step mom will always comment how they want to look better for the blog pictures..and I get that. But in real life, this is how others see us, right? And our friends still love us, bags and all!!
    So good for you for being open to it!
    And you look fabulous!

    • Anita Irlen says:

      Jodie, it’s funny, I’ve read that studies show we all think we are better looking than we really are. Not sure how they “study” that? Frightful kind of thought. It’s natural, we all want to look good, it’s just being a slave to it that’s not so good. Thanks for the comment. Anita

  • I don’t think I would bare my face like you have. Hopefully your brave move will give me courage to do something like this. I’m struggling with not looking like I uesd to look. Sure I can pull myself together with makeup and hair and if I keep a small smile, my eyebrows raised and my chin out, I’m not horrified by the ravages of grief and time. I sometimes wonder what my late husband, James, would think…

    • Anita Irlen says:

      Brenda, Blogging and doing the work I have this past year, it’s made me painfully aware of the grieving process you’re talking about. The grieving, I think is ok, but we are so tough on ourselves, as if aging were somehow our “fault.” This is all intimately related to the “invisibility” thing. You know, I bet James would think you are beautiful! Anita

  • Caro says:

    I love your photo & see a strong, interesting & beautiful woman.

  • When I see myself on photos -ordinary ones-, I don’t recognize myself anymore (but I never did). This one is so beautiful and intelligent!

  • Shybiker says:

    Boy, does this hit home. I feel exactly the same.

    For me, it especially hurts because now, in my late-50’s, I’m presenting a female identity for the first time. So, while in my mind I’m 24 years old, the mirror reveals sagging facial skin and neck-wrinkles. Unlike you and other cisgender gals, I never had youthful feminine beauty to remember fondly now; I was pretending to be a man back then. I’m sure you don’t have photos from your twenties with a moustache. 🙂

    All this said, let’s return to your post. It took COURAGE to do this. Major bravery. I applaud that. Seeing ourselves in our actual corporeal reality takes guts; most people prefer to live in lifelong delusion.

    • Anita Irlen says:

      Ralph, You are super kind, and thank you for bringing up your presenting as a female and the special issues that entails. That’s something I had never thought about. Educational. I’ll risk sounding like we’re a mutual admiration society, well, we are. You too are brave! xxx

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