The Old Bags Project


by Joan Anderman, Boston Globe, 24 May 2016

Baum and Petcher’s photo series shows middle aged female volunteers photographed with bags from trendy retailers placed over their heads.

The Old Bags Project, Faith Baum’s and Lori Petchers’ multidisciplinary exploration of middle-age American womanhood, has been exhibited in galleries across the Northeast, projected onto buildings, fashioned into video installations, published as a book. Baum and Petchers put out a sign-up sheet to recruit women interested in posing for the project. So far 60 have participated: large women and small, dark and light, sturdy, saggy, lithe, wrinkled, meek, muscled, graceful, tattooed, in hot pink satin and baggy beige briefs, each one wearing a shopping bag on her head.

The shopping bags work on many levels; neutralizing an age-old insult, poking fun at consumerism, preventing viewers from shifting their gaze to a woman’s face as a refuge from the taboo sight of a middle-age woman’s body. For the vast majority of the women, obscuring their faces freed them to expose their bodies.

Lots of things about aging are scary: sickness, running out of money, being alone. But our changing bodies shouldn’t be this awful thing that we work so hard to pretend we’re stopping.

The Old Bags Project wants to shine a light on the debasing effects of ageism, yes, but also on the insidiousness of it; the hard truth that even thoughtful and enlightened people feel compelled to play by its twisted rules.

The goal of the Old Bags Project is to reveal the biases we have towards older women and older bodies. I have found that even preschoolers have fears and biases towards older adults; they might find things like wrinkles or walkers to be scary. This art project is an example of a way to challenge these biases. While it isn’t necessarily appropriate for preschoolers, the importance of normalizing aging is relevant to my project.