Baes Who Slay at the Ms. Senior America Pageant
When you first meet Everett Meissner, one thing comes to mind: lumbersexual. With his big bushy beard and flannel to match, it’s no surprise that the Savannah, Georgia native focuses most of his personal work on the natural realm and splits his time between New York City and his quaint Vermont house. What may be a surprise is his newest photo series, with the Ms. Senior America Pageant held at Holyoke High School. The portraits boast colorful and vivacious depictions of the ladies, dressed to the nines for their big debut, proving that beauty is ageless. Milk Made’s Jordan Mack got to sit with the photographer to talk about the working behind the scenes the pageant, the unruly nature of online comments sections and what it means to be a lumbersexual.
How did you get involved with the Ms. Senior America Pageant?
It was just a curiosity about participating in events like these and being judged, getting a number for your looks and talents. That’s something I’d never want to do. I started looking around. You see the ones from children, but that felt a little weird and exploitative. I’d be more interested in the parents, especially working with photography, seeing stage moms in their element. I saw the senior pageant and I thought it would be great. In those kinds of things, beauty and youth are so tied together, but they just threw that out the window.
The women look really alive in the pictures.
That’s what I was hoping for. When I went in, I was thinking about how I wanted to portray this event. You can always tweak the images to what you want. The pageant took place in a high school, so I could have done a black and white, behind the scenes with bad skin, telling people, ‘Aw, look at this. It’s in the middle of nowhere, so sad.’ Instead, I put them on a white back ground to take them out of the environment and make them glam. I wanted to show the way I thought they felt, the way they see themselves.
Did they impart any particularly good wisdom?
No, it was super hectic. It was a one day thing of craziness, just running around. They were super proud of themselves and everyone else. They were all just really strong women. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to have a long conversation with any of them. It was just asking if they wanted a portrait or not, offered them a print. Some people didn’t want to, but I get that.
Were there any interesting talents?
I actually didn’t see any of them. I would shoot them as they came back. You can see in one picture with the Caribbean dress that there was dancing. The winner, Ruth, was singing. There was storytelling and painting. It was all great, but I didn’t get to see any of it.
That really sucks, but you’ve been getting a lot of buzz about this series. How has that been? Any new interesting photography opportunities?
Nothing yet, but getting picked up by Paper was really awesome. Right off the bat, they said, ‘We really love these, can we run them?’ It felt great. Huff Post picked it up, and I realized that it would reach a lot of people. Everyone’s running it with this story of ageless beauty. What was interesting was reading comments on the posts. I know they say you should never read them, but I couldn’t help myself. It was fucking horrible, not towards my picture but to the women! There were some that were nice, but a lot where just horrible. It’s interesting that people are so fucked up. I guess that’s the nature of the comments section. It’s just vicious. These are 60+ women and you’re being so ruthless? It did occur to me on a bigger scale that there’s a large beauty concept: are women past 60 beautiful? I thought they were and really tried to capture that.
Do you feel like your perceptions of beauty changed after this?
Beauty and age definitely have changed. Hanging out with the women, seeing them run around and be kickass. They say ‘I’m 80, I’m hot. What’s the deal?’ It’s inspiring. My mother had an accident where she can’t move as much, so to see these women changes your interpretation of old people. You’re thinking, ‘Wow, I can be awesome.’ They’re going out on a Sunday to Holyoke High School and having a blast. That really changes my perception of it.
After this experience, what’s your ideal 70? Where are you? What are you doing?
No pageants [laughs]. Even at 70, I don’t think I’d take judgement too well. I’d want to be living life. I have a place in Vermont. I would want to be active and healthy, excited about life. I would hate to be sitting back and just watching life, watching it pass me by. I would want to be more active and a part of things.
You seem really inspired by nature in your other pictures. What inspired this curiosity in pageantry?
It’s a contrast from everything else, but I also don’t really feel like it is. I’m just trying to catch a moment with these women, and that’s who they are. That’s them in their natural environment. It’s ‘more pop,’ as my other work tends to be more back and white and a little moodier, but this is how I wanted to do it. I just felt like that’s how I saw it, that’s how it needed to be portrayed.
What do you listen to when you shoot or edit?
If I’m editing, I listen to stuff like Dinosaur Jr.–
What? This interview is over [laughs]. You really don’t know Dinosaur Jr.? They started the whole Sonic Youth vibe.
If you could get brass knuckles with anything on them, what would you put?
I’d absolutely have a picture of my face and a thumbs up.
What other creative outlets are you interested in?
Woodworking! I’ve gotten really into that. I’m getting obsessed with that, and acquiring my tools for it.
You’re just the ultimate lumbersexual.
What? Oh god no, come on [laughs]. I mean, I guess I could see it. I’ve had this beard forever, but I definitely see the image: blasting my Sonic Youth while I woodwork, building tables and shit on my Vermont porch. Oh god.
Check out Everett’s other works here.
Homeslide by Hannah Ahn.