SAM Presents: Ponch Hawkes’ 500 Strong

17 September - 27 November 2022

The world is awash with images of naked youthfulness, predominantly of young women. A naked older woman is a rare subject and hardly ever portrayed with a sense of desirability.

In 2018, renowned Australian photographer Ponch Hawkes (b. 1946, Abbotsford; lives and works in Naarm/Melbourne) embarked on an epic project to photograph 500 Victorian women over the age of 50. Calling on women from across the state from all backgrounds, 432 volunteered to be photographed in the nude to celebrate the diversity and reality of older women’s bodies.

Photoshoots were organised in Melbourne at Hawkes’ studio and at both Shepparton Art Museum and Geelong Gallery. Participants were able to show their faces or could consider anonymity and, if they wished, come prepared with a personalised face covering.

The resulting series confronts the conventions of female behaviour and representation in art and society and was a major feature of Flesh After Fifty: Changing Images of Older Women in Art, curated by Jane Scott and presented at Abbotsford Convent in March 2021.

Hawkes took up photography in the 1970s while working as a journalist for Rolling Stone and The Digger magazines. Today she pairs a documentary approach with a feminist perspective to create works that engage in critical debate and comment on Australian society and cultural life. Her work is held in major public museum collections, including the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Australia, State Library of Victoria and many private collections. 

500 Strong was originally presented as part of Flesh after Fifty, curated by Jane Scott.

Please note exhibition contains full-frontal artistic nudity. Audiences under 16 years of age must be accompanied by an adult.

Artist Bio

Ponch Hawkes is an Australian photographer whose work explores Australia’s cultural and social histories and present. Broad in scope, her work portrays Australians of all backgrounds in her interest in how individuals relate to one another. Her work is frequently bold and humorous, capturing moments of ‘joie de vivre’ and at other times sweet, capturing moments between individuals and those of self-reflection.

Hawkes' work has been included in numerous major Australian exhibitions such as Know My Name (2021-22) and Melbourne Now (2013) and is held in many significant collections across the country at institutions such as The National Gallery, The National Gallery of Victoria, the Jewish Museum of Australia, The Queensland Art Gallery and more. 

Curator: Caroline Esbenshade, Curator - Community

IMAGE: Ponch Hawkes, 500 Strong (detail), 2019-20, Courtesy the artist © Ponch Hawkes.