Here’s Looking at You

Photos by Liz Harvey for Old Bags Project
Photos by Liz Harvey for Old Bags Project


Could photographs of seminude middle-aged women with paper bags over their heads help neutralize a stale insult? So far, more than 50 women—white, black, and Hispanic and 40 to 70 years of age—have stripped down, bagged up, and posed for documentary filmmaker Lori Petchers and architect Faith Baum, who call their project Old Bags.

Petchers and Baum, themselves middle-aged, conceived the multimedia undertaking on a beach in Fairfield, Connecticut, in 2010. They confided to each other that they felt, in many ways, invisible and wanted to express that feeling. Petchers had already interviewed many menopausal women about their middle years. For the art project, each participant struck a pose. The anonymity provided by a bag seemed to leave them with a higher appreciation of their bodies; if only for a moment, they could find freedom in their invisibility. “Some would dance, some rotate their hands, some ask how they should stand,” Baum says.

The images have appeared in art galleries and at universities in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island and have been projected onto buildings at night so that the figures appear to be inside the windows. Now Petchers and Baum—ascribing to a quilters’ truism that old cloth finds new life when assembled with other pieces—are making quiltlike photographic matrixes. They want their project to evolve and are contemplating a shift of Old Bags to the Internet so that women can contribute their own videos and photos.

Of course not everyone appreciates Old Bags symbolism, Petchers says, but “No matter how they feel about it, they never forget it.”

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Sasha Ingber is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. She has written for National Geographic, The Atlantic, The Washington Post Magazine, and The Jerusalem Post.


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