The Second Half
Forty Women Reveal Life After Fifty
Distributed for Brandeis University Press
The Second Half
Forty Women Reveal Life After Fifty
A frank, honest, and insightful look into the lives of women over fifty.
The Second Half explores, in photographic portraits and interviews, how the second half of life is experienced by women from many different cultures. From a French actress to a British novelist, from an Algerian nomad to a Saudi Arabian doctor, and an American politician, Ellen Warner traveled all over the world to interview women about their lives. She asked them what they learned in the first half that was helpful in the second, and what advice they would give to younger women. Their revealing and inspiring stories are enlightening for all readers, and are illustrated by Warner’s stunning portraits which tell their own story.
"A fascinating, fly-in-amber distillation of forty women over fifty, the book pushes these women to the foreground, shaking up expectations along the way. The results (are) revelatory.”
Foreword Reviews, Starred Review
"Reading Ellen Warner’s The Second Half: Forty Women Reveal Life After Fifty is like having one of those intimate conversations with each of 40 women from around the world as they share their formative experiences and advice for younger generations. Their insights are particularly valuable in a country where intergenerational learning is often lost…"
The Washington Post
"It is with these words (from the women in the book) that any woman who reaches the age of 50 and beyond can exhilarate in the fact that a better life is just beginning."
The New York Journal of Books
"As these women and others divulge their most difficult and joyous moments, the result is a book bristling with energy and wisdom."
BookPage, Starred Review
"The black-and-white portraits are intimate and revealing, and the interviews..are never less than fascinating… Its magic rests in the portraits, which are so wondrous that one is drawn irresistibly into the words."
"This is a collection of 40 beautiful portraits of 40 amazing women over 50. Gift it to all your friends, for no special occasion whatsoever. "
"22 of 2022’s Top New Books (So Far)"
“We need to celebrate women for not wrinkles but laugh lines. We need to see ourselves changing and growing. If that means looking older – celebrate it. Experience is as beautiful as youth. These (words and) pictures are meant to teach us that every stage of life has its own enchantment.”
Erica Mann Jong, from the Foreword
"Ellen Warner’s powerful and moving portraits and interviews show us what we need to know: how extremely diverse women envision the second half of women’s’ lives, and the wide-ranging perspectives they offer to share with us, the fortunate readers."
Professor Elaine Pagels, historian
“The faces of the women in this book, deeply etched by experience and by sorrow and yet alight with life and hope are an enduring tribute not only to Ellen's genius as a photographer skill but also to the personal qualities that give her subjects the freedom to reveal who they really are."
Pat Barker, novelist
“Warner’s book beautifully reflects the challenges and opportunities of growing older in an ageist culture. The depictions of older women’s complexity, diversity and resiliency offer a wonderful resource for all of us – including younger people – in our age-segregated society.”
Joan Ditzion, MSW, and Judy Norsigian, co-founders of Our Bodies Ourselves
“The diverse and inspiring stories in Ellen Warner’s The Second Half are as powerfully written as they are stunningly photographed, and superbly curated. Each face, each life, each page fills you with hope, and takes your breath away.”
Nandana Sen, writer, actor, activist
"Ellen Warner’s photographs are deeply narrative, and in this book we are presented with a remarkable enhancement to those images: the real narratives."
Tim Gunn, author, actor, Project Runway mentor.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Sarah Lamb
Odette Walling, born 1920, interviewed at age 86
Resistance leader, Ravensbruck Prisoner #47321, Kings Medal for Courage, Medaille de Resistance, Paris, France
Jean Angell, born ca 1942, interviewed at age 65
Lawyer with Lou Gehrig’s disease, Prout’s Neck, Maine, USA
Roxy Beaujolais, born ca. 1947, interviewed at age 60
Publican of the Seven Stars, Carey Street, London, England
Teresa Sayward, born ca. 1944, interviewed at age 64
State Assemblywoman, Retired Farmer, Willsboro, New York, USA
Leslie Caron, born 1931, interviewed at age 70
Actress, Paris, France
Dr. Fathia Al Sulimani, born 1950, interviewed at age 60
Nephrologist, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Marilynn Preston, born 1946, interviewed at age 60
Journalist, playwright and Emmy Award winning TV producer, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Jacqueline Délia Brémond, born 1936, interviewed at age 70
Publisher, Co-Founder and Co-Chair of Fondation Ensemble, Paris, France
Fatma Doufen, born ca 1945, interviewed at age 62
Tuareg nomad in the Sahara - 36 k from Tamanrasset, Southern Algeria
Francoise Simon, born ca. 1930, interviewed at age 76
Portrait Painter, Paris, France
Luisah Teish, born ca 1948, interviewed at age 60
Shaman, Teacher of Transformation, Spiritual Anthropologist, San Francisco, California, USA
Perla Servan-Schreiber, born ca. 1944, interviewed at age 62
Publisher, writer, Founder of Psychologie magazine, Paris, France
Irene Carlos, born ca 1900, interviewed at age 107
Retired Cook, Antigua, West Indies
Ni Ketut Takil, born ca. 1935, interviewed at age 75
A Jero Balian (Sacred Healer), Banjar Baung Sayan, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Bokara Legendre, born 1940, interviewed at age 70
Actress, Writer, Artist, TV presenter, New York and South Carolina, USA
Salama Ba Sunbol, born ca. 1957, interviewed at age 53
Embroidery Specialist and Trainer, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Tamasin Day-Lewis, born 1953, interviewed at age 55
Documentary Filmmaker, Food Critic, Chef and Author
Georgia Nikitara, born ca 1932, interviewed at age 74
Farmer, Patmos, Greece
Giuliana Camerino, born 1920, interviewed at age 86
Founder of the design firm Roberta di Camerino, Venice, Italy
Ada Gates, born 1943, interviewed at age 67
Farrier, First Woman Licensed to Shoe Thoroughbred Horses in the USA and Canada, Pasadena, California, USA
Ma Thanegi, born 1946, interviewed at age 65
Journalist, Author, Ang San Suu Kyi’s Personal Assistant who went to jail with her, Yangon, Myanmar
Flora Biddle, born 1928, interviewed at age 80
Writer, past Chair of the Board of The Whitney Museum, Granddaughter of the Founder, New York City, USA
Elizabeth Jane Howard, born 1923, interviewed at age 84
Author, Bungay Bay, Suffolk, England
Modestine Brown, born ca.1931, interviewed at age 76
Retired Cook, Antigua, West Indies
Cristina Loring de Saavedra, born ca 1947, interviewed at age 61
Retired Flamenco Dancer, Madrid, Spain
Christine Ockrent, born 1944, interviewed at age 62
First women TV anchor in France, Paris, France
Peggy Elliott, born ca. 1943, interviewed at age 64
Manicurist, Fishers Island, New York and West Palm Beach, Florida, USA
Lady Elizabeth Longman, born 1924, interviewed at age 82
Wife of the last head of Longman’s Publishing Company, Bridesmaid to Queen Elizabeth, London, England
Lali Al Balushi, born ca 1950, interviewed at age 60
Housewife, Muscat, Oman
Tullia Zevi, born 1919, interviewed at age 89
Musician, Journalist, President of the Italian Jewish Communities, Vice President of European Jewish Communities, Rome, Italy
Lama Yeshe Drolma, born ca 1945, interviewed at age 61
Buddhist Lama, Lubeck, Germany
Lulu Balcom, born 1908, interviewed at age 98
Artist, Fishers Island, New York and Palm Beach, Florida, USA
Dodie Rosecrans, born 1919, interviewed at age 88
American art collector who divides her time between San Francisco, Paris and Venice
Elo Papasin, born 1946, interviewed at age 60
Housekeeper and Cook, Manila, Philippines. Currently lives in Paris, France
Monika Kochs, born ca. 1946, interviewed at age 61
Artist, Salzburg, Austria
Marina Ma, born ca. 1923, interviewed at age 85
Mother of Yo-Yo Ma, cellist, and Dr. Yo-Chen Ma
Long Beach, New York, USA
Charlotte Mosley, born 1952, interviewed at age 55
Journalist, Publisher, Editor of the letters of the Mitford Sisters
Marilyn Nelson, born 1946, interviewed at age 74
Poet, Translator, Author, Former Poet Laureate of Connecticut
East Haven, Connecticut, USA
Blanche Blackwell, born 1912, interviewed at age 95
Ian Fleming’s last great love, mother of Chris Blackwell who founded Virgin Records, London, England
Olivia de Havilland, born 1916, interviewed at age 92
Actress, Paris, France
In 2003, I first went to Patmos, a Greek island that I fell in love with and now return to every year. The way I get to know a place is to take portraits of the people who live there. Fifteen years ago, I asked Jacqueline Délia Brémond, a beautiful French woman who had been coming to Patmos for thirty five years, if I could photograph her. She had just turned seventy, and while I was taking her portrait, I asked her what it felt like to be seventy. I found myself listening attentively, not in the abstract way I usually do when talking to a subject while really focusing on the composition of the picture. I had been thinking about aging, myself. “This is what I want to know,” I thought. What does it feel like to be seventy, eighty, or one hundred years old? How will I feel when I lose my looks or my ability to be independent, to travel alone to remote parts of the world? What is it like to know that the end of life is approaching? And that was the birth of The Second Half.
I’ve spent my career taking pictures. Interviewing was new to me. I had to decide what questions to ask. What did I really want to know? I narrowed my questions to the following:
What did you learn in the first half that’s been helpful in the second?
How do you feel you’ve changed, including your interests, values, and your sense of who you are?
What used to give you the greatest pleasure? What gives you the greatest pleasure now?
What was your happiest time? Your saddest time?
How do you look to the future?
How would you like to be remembered?
What advice would you give younger women?
People often ask me how I found the women in the book. The answer is: usually through other women. Shortly after that trip to Patmos, my husband and I were invited to visit friends in Paris. I was chatting with our next-door neighbor across our garden wall, wondering how I would find women. “You must photograph the woman who was married to my husband’s uncle!” my friend said. That was Odette Walling. Our hosts in Paris recommended a few women, and Jacqueline Délia recommended others. On another trip, walking down a little street in village of Ubud in Bali, I saw a beautiful woman. “Who is she?” I asked my companion. “She’s my Auntie,” was the response. That was Ni Ketut Takil. (I was later told that in local villages, it’s customary to call every older woman an Auntie.) In southern Algeria, I was crossing the desert with five friends to visit the prehistoric paintings of the Tassili. I asked our Berber guides if they could keep their eyes open for a nomadic woman—which is how I met Fatma Doufen.
In general, I had two criteria for the women I photographed and interviewed. They had to be interesting looking—not necessarily beautiful, but interesting looking. And they had to be willing to open up and be honest in the interview. And, with a couple of exceptions, I didn’t want to photograph friends—I wanted to approach each person with fresh eyes and ears. I looked for diversity, both geographic and socioeconomic, within the limits of how much of the world I could cover.
When the women couldn’t speak English, they had friends—and, in one case, a granddaughter—translate. I asked very personal questions during each interview, and I wondered if the granddaughter learned intimate things about her grandmother that she might never have known.
While everyone told me her age at the time of our interview, I’ve used “circa” (abbreviated as “ca.”) when I don’t know for certain the specific year when someone was born. Some interviews were very long, and then I had to edit a great deal—an agonizing process, as I found everything about each woman’s life story compelling. Each woman has taught me something. I’ve learned about running a pub in London, arranged marriages in Saudi Arabia, shoeing racehorses, raising a son to become a world famous cellist, and much, much more.
The women have been inspirational. I will never forget the courage of Jean Angell, who could move only her eyeballs and depended on others for care. Her ability to adapt and still lead a vibrant life—attending ballet performances and art exhibits, using her legal mind to help her wide circle of friends and family—made me forget she had a disability. Or Lali Al Balushi, whose husband divorced her in Oman and moved with her three small children, the youngest two months old, to Pakistan. Now, small annoyances aren’t so important to me.
Because this project took fifteen years to complete, circumstances for some of the women in the book have changed since they were interviewed. Tamasin Day-Lewis, whom I interviewed early in the project shortly after she was divorced, is now happily remarried. And a few of the women, including Olivia de Havilland, have died. Each woman’s interview and photograph is a moment in time, how they felt then, as honestly as they could relate it. Their lives span a century, and their attitudes express their time and culture.
One of the things I found interesting is that the nomad in the Sahara and the cook in South Carolina often come to the same conclusion as the Marquesa in Seville. There is a definite consensus, which was surprising to me at first, that the second half is better than the first. “This sounds like turning lemons into lemonade,” said an American friend of mine in her forties, but I found it voiced with real conviction. In the second half, you know who you are, and you are liberated by not caring about what others think of you. In the second half, wisdom kicks in, intuition takes over, and you can accept yourself, flaws and all, with greater ease and clarity. That very positive message became the underlying theme of The Second Half.
I would like to express my gratitude to the women in the book, who have taken the time to be included and in many cases have reflected upon unpleasant memories. I trust their stories will be as helpful to readers, as they ponder difficult decisions or moments in their own lives, as they have been to me.