Birds of a Feather
“It’s not every day you see a woman in her 70s in a bikini pose like that. It is not what people would expect to see,” Natalie Grono
IT’S Friday morning and Feather has just come back from her morning walk around Byron Bay. Normally she’d also be swimming but rather than a case of it being too cold on this June day, Feather, 79, is worried about her hair.
“If I go for a swim and wet it, I have to come home and do it all again. And I wouldn’t wear a bathing cap for quids,” Feather says.
I’m speaking with Feather about her role in Natalie Grono’s award-winning photo: Feather and the Goddess Pool. Natalie has just received the People’s Choice award for this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize. And it’s well deserved. You see, Feather is an icon around Byron Bay where this photo was shot, and she even christened the Goddess Pool, just around the corner from Watego’s Beach, where she swims daily. Yes, Feather in a bikini is not a set-up shot, it’s a daily, natural occurrence. Capturing women in their natural state, in all their wrinkly, crinkly, curvy, straight, boobs, bums and bold beauty is a passion of Natalie’s, and also part of her latest project.
“I live near Byron Bay and I’m a photographer and I’m working on a project to do with women…strong women who are role models and it’s about challenging the idea of how women are normally presented,” Natalie says.
“The day we went to the Goddess Pool it was quite rough and rugged and we had to climb over the rocks which kind of made it even more special. I captured Feather’s light, beauty and wisdom. I wanted to show her beauty and confidence at that age.”
“I’m drawn to strong and intelligent women who have something to say and are a little bit different.”
If Natalie wanted strong, intelligent and different, she didn’t have to cast the net far to find Feather, who is all this and more. Feather’s husband died 16 years ago, and she still dates, but describes men as “strange creatures.”
“I do look after myself, it doesn’t just happen. I walk every day for two hours and I ride a bike. I live alone. As for men in my life, they come and go. The one who I’m seeing at the moment seems to have something wrong with his car on a regular basis, so I won’t be seeing him again. I don’t understand them,” she says.
“I’ve got TMB – Too Many Birthdays. Men who are 80 and 81 look at me and say I’m too old for them. They can’t do anything and they are ratshit and I’m not really interested in being a cougar.”
Feather has come to grips with growing older, in fact she loves it, describing her wrinkles as “only skin to keep your insides in”. For the photo, she says Natalie was lucky to find her that day wearing a bra, as she normally goes topless. And if anyone dares to stare, she gives them the finger and tells them to “bugger off”.
“I get my nails done in the salon and the girls look after that finger. I used to poke my tongue out but giving the finger is much more fun. And I don’t really tell them to bugger off, I use much stronger language,” Feather says.
“It’s much ado about nothing. Just get out there, life is not a rehearsal, it’s the real deal. It doesn’t matter.
“I’m enjoying myself, I’ve lived my life, now I’m loving it.”
National Portrait Gallery Senior Curator Christopher Chapman says the portrait of Feather was a popular favourite with exhibition visitors.
“It conveys a strong sense of her bold character and her connection to the natural environment of Byron Bay. The photograph uses black-and-white tones to create a dynamic layering of surfaces: ruffled water, crinkled rocks, and the texture of Feather’s own skin.”
And there were, of course, other fantastic portraits in the category. Here’s a selection of my favourites below.
Natalie’s project on strong women will be featured on a blog she is establishing called The Moon and The Muse. Her current work can be found on http://www.nataliegrono.com The National Photographic Portrait Prize 2015 exhibition will begin its North Queensland tour, beginning at Artspace Mackay from July 10 to August 30. For more details and tour dates go to: http://www.portrait.gov.au