‘Still Beautiful’: A photography exhibition celebrating older women

Taking portraits of people, in particular women, is not merely about photography but more about telling the stories of these women, according Karyn Coxall-Leong. — Picture by KE Ooi
Taking portraits of people, in particular women, is not merely about photography but more about telling the stories of these women, according Karyn Coxall-Leong. — Picture by KE Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, July 20 — For her very first exhibition, Karyn Coxall-Leong decided on a subject she knows all too well: Mature women.

Coxall-Leong, who is 55, wanted to celebrate the beauty of older women with her portraits. Taking portraits of people, in particular women, is not merely about photography but more about telling their stories, she added.

The full-time nurse said she wanted the women she photographed to feel good about themselves.

“I took photos of women of all races, expatriates and locals, of different socio-economic background, in different settings,” she told Malay Mail.

Her upcoming exhibition titled “Still Beautiful: A Photographic Celebration of Mature Women in Penang” will be a showcase of the women she photographed last year.

There will be about 15 large black and white portraits and more than 100 smaller photographs of mature women in the exhibition.

Each of the portraits will be accompanied by five words from them and short stories about them.

“This exhibition is not about me, it is about these women and their stories,” Coxall-Leong said.

The Australian is married to a Malaysian and has been travelling to and fro to Malaysia for the past 20 years.

She started with street photography to capture the everyday life of people but over the past few years, she started talking to the people she photographed.

Karyn Coxall-Leong’s upcoming exhibition titled ‘Still Beautiful: A Photographic Celebration of Mature Women in Penang’ will be a showcase of the women she photographed last year. — Picture by KE Ooi
Karyn Coxall-Leong’s upcoming exhibition titled ‘Still Beautiful: A Photographic Celebration of Mature Women in Penang’ will be a showcase of the women she photographed last year. — Picture by KE Ooi

“I worked as a nurse in intensive care for 40 years and this helped me in my photography as I strive to capture the humanity of people through the lens,” she said.

“I am finding that my photography is leading me in the direction where I can make others feel good about themselves, allowing me to pay it forward with kindness,” she added.

The many years she spent travelling all around Malaysia whenever on vacation here has also led to her picking up local dialects and languages.

A portrait by Karyn Coxall-Leong.
A portrait by Karyn Coxall-Leong.

“I speak a bit of Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien and Mandarin, just common phrases to put people at ease when I talk to them... to ask for permission to take their pictures and to listen to their stories,” she said.

Last year, Leong took part in a three-month artist residency programme at Hotel Penaga where she spent the time taking portraits of people in Macallum Street.

It was an eye-opening experience where she met and made friends with people who lived there.

“After I ended my artist’s residency, I stayed on and continued taking portraits of people here,” she added.

One of the portraits by Karyn Coxall-Leong.
One of the portraits by Karyn Coxall-Leong.

The soft-spoken woman is also using her art form as a way of reaching out to people and capturing their stories through her photographs.

“I am not making any money from this, the portraits I’ve taken... I would make copies and give it to the people I photographed,” she said.

After this exhibition, Coxall-Leong plans to continue working on similar projects, mainly photographing women back home in Melbourne and here.

She has plans to photograph women with cancer to make them feel good about themselves.

The “Still Beautiful” exhibition opens on July 29 at a private residence at Lorong Kelawei.

Still Beautiful: A Photographic Celebration of Mature Women in Penang

147, Lorong Kelawei, Penang.

Entry via donation to Women’s Centre for Change.

Time: 11am-2pm (July 30-August 5)

* Karyn Coxall-Leong is available on Facebook and Instagram under Karyn Leong Photograhy.

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