May 08, 2017 - No Comments!

It’s Nice That

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Photographer Brian Finke traces the “birth of booze” with his series for National Geographic

Words by Rebecca Fulleylove

Photographer Brian Finke has worked with National Geographic on his first cover story for the magazine. Having worked with Todd James, a photo editor for the publication, on past assignments, the pair had “built an understanding” of the type of projects that fit Brian’s punchy style and interests. “When [Todd] reached out to discuss working together on The Birth of Booze we both thought it would be a great follow up to the first story I shot for National Geographic around the subject of meat explains Brian.

The brief was to unravel the origins of alcohol and led to the photographer travelling for four months around Peru, Germany, the Republic of Georgia, China and the USA. In the mag, the story explores the idea of how alcohol has been a “prime move of human culture” which has fuelled “the development of arts, language and religion” since its beginnings 9,000 years ago.

“For about three weeks, Todd and I were in constant contact discussing all of the background research that he compiled and then we began to discuss areas of how to build out the story photographically,” Brian says. “Then together we started to co-ordinate the travel and logistical needs involved in sending me out on the road.”

 

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Brian travelled to working communities where alcohol production was still an integral part of life, and he enjoyed witnessing the “ancient processes involved in alcohol production that are still in existence today”. “Overall it was visually stunning but I also came home with an incredible understanding and respect for what it takes to produce alcohol on every level, from large scale production to small communal batches,” explains Brian. “I was looking to capture the real-life moments in each community, so I could give National Geographic’s readers an understanding of the role of alcohol throughout history.”

The social aspect of alcohol is a key part of the project, and Brian has captured numerous groups of people and neighbourhoods drinking together glugging drinks and having fun, and there’s a universal camaraderie throughout the series. “What I hoped to have illustrated is the cultural significance around alcohol consumption and production all over the world,” says Brian. “Each community we visited had such a unique style and vibe, but there was always such a wonderful community of people that were involved in its creation and with each new country I visited, I really began to appreciate that aspect of the story.”

 

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April 12, 2017 - No Comments!

Aperture

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Renowned travel writers and editors on the photographs that transport them.

Tara Guertin

Brian Finke’s work was on my mind for fifteen years before I commissioned this photograph. I first noticed Finke in the late ’90s, soon after I moved to New York, when we were both in our mid-twenties. Over the next decade and a half, I watched him refine his sharp, high contrast style while straddling the art and editorial worlds. Cheeky and dark, his photographs are impressively consistent and instantly recognizable.

When Brian and I finally met in 2013, I was working as the photo director at the then fledging travel magazine AFAR. On a visit to New York, he and I chatted over a few bourbons at a local barbecue joint. Brian shoots vices, often sex-related, but not always: frat boys half naked, dripping in beer; women in hip-hop videos or beauty pageants; and marijuana producers. I considered him for many assignments, but AFAR focuses on experiential travel, rather than these nefarious pleasures. Nothing seemed right. So I waited—until a story about one of my own weaknesses crossed my desk.

Mezcal wasn’t something Brian was particularly familiar with, but I had a feeling that the Mexican liquor and its culture would be right up his alley. He returned with a body of work that thrilled me. Recently, we met again. Waiting for me on the bar was a glass of mezcal, neat, and a print of this photograph. Maybe Brian has discovered another vice?

Tara Guertin is Director of Photography at AFAR.

March 14, 2017 - No Comments!

Wired

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How to Make Baby Bees and Other Weird Stuff Great to Eat.

Finke isn’t a foodie. He’s a photographer. He spent last summer shooting The Science of Delicious for National Geographic. The trip took him from a lab in Florida where scientists engineer tastier tomatoes to an experimental food workshop in Toronto where people inhale flavor clouds. And that was the normal stuff.

Dr. Linda Bartoshuk Lmbart@ufl.edu 352 392 1991 Dr. Jennifer Stamps Jstamps@ufl.edu 904 476 1350 Food Science and Human Nutrition Building  527 Newell Dr, Room 405 University of Florida Gainesville Gainesville, FL Dr. Linda Bartoshuk developed the Blue Stain Tongue tests fifteen years ago at Yale University.  This test determines if one is nontasters or supertasters. The test involves counting the number of papillae on the tongue- the more the papillae the more taste sensors a tongue has. Super tasters have much more papillae than non tasters.  This test was developed by Dr. Linda Bartoshuk 15 years ago at Yale. Bartoshuk is now a professor at the University of Florida. Normally, people prize highly acute senses. But taste is not so simple: super taste may be too much of a good thing, causing those who have it to avoid bitter compounds and find some spicy foods too hot to handle. This unusual corner of perception science has been explored by Linda Bartoshuk of Yale University, who first stumbled upon supertasting about 15 years ago while studying saccharin. About one in four, she discovered, qualified as supertasters, a name she coined. To find what made them special, Bartoshuk zeroed in on the tongue's anatomy. She found that people have different numbers of fungiform papillae, with tongue topography ranging from, say, sparse cactus-pocked deserts to lush lawns. To qualify for super stardom, which is a genetically inherited trait, a person has to have wall-to-wall papillae… Most people are tasters, but as many as 25 percent of people of Caucasian descent are non-tasters, according Danielle Reed of the Monell Chemical Senses Center. Women are more likely to be supertasters than men. “Taste only happens when molecules bind to receptors on the tongue,” she says. “From there, signals go to certain parts of the brain. Smell happens when odour molecules bind to receptors in the nose, and from there signals go to different parts of the brain. They eventua

Head Chef R&D Lars Williams extracting rose flavor/water using a rotovap or a rotary evaporator; Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark; Contact: Arve Krognes  +45 32 96 32 97, ak@noma.dk.

The weird stuff included a visit to Louisiana State University, where scientists study catfish to better understand taste. The whiskered bottom-feeders navigate murky water using tens of thousands of tastebuds that cover their bodies. “It’s the same idea as if you took your tongue and, like, stretched it around your body,” Finke says.

Later, at the University of Florida, Finke discovered that he isn’t a supertaster. Such people have an unusually high number of papillae, the bumps on your tongue that contain taste receptors, and it makes them hypsersensitive to flavors. Experimental psychologist Linda Bartoshuk coined the term in the early 1990s. Her team tested Finke, who isn’t a supertaster, and his assistant, who is. “He doesn’t like foods that I would think are deliciously spicy, because it’s too much for his palate,” Finke says.

Not being a supertaster might explain why Finke is so gastronomically adventurous. When the folks at Nordic Food Lab, the Copenhagen outfit that investigates “food diversity and deliciousness,” offered him a few bee larvae, he happily popped them into his mouth. Oddly, he doesn’t remember how they taste—“Maybe crunchy? Maybe not crunchy?”—but he quite liked ants. “They have a very strong flavor,” he says. “Salty and robust.”

Finke visited 10 labs, cooking schools and restaurants like the Fat Duck in Melbourne, where the sorbet comes with a box of steaming oak moss that you sniff while eating. He shot, as he always does, with a Nikon D800 and off-camera flashes that cast everything in an unappetizing glow.

The project opened his eyes to the bizarre lengths people go in pursuit of flavor. But if you love food, you’ll try anything. Even ants.

January 09, 2017 - No Comments!

It’s Nice That

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Brian Finke captures the glitz and glamour of the Ms. Senior America beauty pageant

The Ms. Senior America pageant was created in Atlantic City to celebrate the older ladies of America and challenge notions of beauty and its place in American culture. Photographer Brian Finke was asked by Good Housekeeping to “do his thing” and capture all the drama and glamour of the pageant in his brash and glossy style.

“I’ve photographed a lot of competitions over the years such as cheerleadingcompetitions and bodybuilding says Brian. “I’ve alway been interested in the subtle moments backstage where the anticipation and vulnerability comes out in the contestants, they’re very telling of the personalities of the people.” Capturing contestants aged 60 – 90, a range of emotions are portrayed in glitzy colours and intimate crops, yet Brian is careful to combine stage shots with behind the scenes images to create a richer narrative.

“[The contestants] loved the attention, they are there to be seen and perform; being there shooting was just adding to the scene,” he says. Like with many of his other projects, the photographer made sure to go in with an open mind. “I always like showing up without preconceived ideas and photographing what I’m drawn to. I was very impressed watching the ladies own it on stage – I wanted them to look amazing.”

 

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December 01, 2016 - No Comments!

The Standard

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The Many Faces of The Standard Spa, Miami Beach by Photographer Brian Finke

MIAMISHOT AT THE STANDARD
Photographer Brian Finke, whose editorial work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, National Geographic, The New Yorker, and Esquire, turns his eye for detail to The Standard Spa, Miami Beach’s poolside scene.
If there’s one thing we really know at The Standard, it’s how to create indelible spaces where people can let loose and be their true selves.A classic example is our beloved pool at The Standard Spa, Miami Beach. It’s as reliably joyous a place as you’ll find in this topsy-turvy world—as good for basking in the sun, sipping frosé, and taking a dip, as it is for some first-rate people watching.

Day in and day out, a sundry cast of characters gathers around this idyllic spot to laze about, play, and plunge. It’s the kind of place where you’d happily ask a perfect stranger to apply a bit of sunscreen, and they’d surely oblige.

Recently, we dispatched photographer Brian Finke, whose editorial work has appeared in The New York TimesWiredNational Geographic, The New Yorker, and Esquire, to document the many characters that comprise this iconic scene. From muscle men and flight attendants, to waffle houses and people eating at their desks, Finke has a special eye for the eccentric details of daily life. Sure enough, he captured that and much more at our Miami playground.

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PHOTOGRAPHY
BRIAN FINKE
ART DIRECTION

November 28, 2016 - No Comments!

One Shot Editions

www.oneshoteditions.com

INTRODUCING ONE SHOT: EXCLUSIVE ONE-OF-ONE PHOTO PRINTS FROM THE WORLD’S MOST EXCITING PHOTOGRAPHERS

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ONE PHOTOGRAPHER. ONE ROLL OF FILM. ZERO NEGATIVES.

One Shot is a new kind of online gallery that sells museum quality prints of exclusive photos from world-class photographers. Each One Shot photo is printed in an edition of one. After the prints are made, the negatives are destroyed, making One Shot the most limited, limited edition photo series ever. Each photo is sold sight unseen, meaning that buyers won’t know what the shots look like until after they’ve purchased them.

THE RUSSIAN ROULETTE OF PHOTOGRAPHY.

For each edition, One Shot commissions a world-class photographer to shoot a single roll of film, however they want. Buyers can select any available shot on the roll. Once each shot is claimed, it will be gone forever. The number of shots to pick from will vary based on the film format the photographer chooses. Each shot could result in a masterpiece, a happy accident or something else entirely. You won’t know until you take your shot.

NO REPRINTS. EVER.

Each buyer will receive an exclusive 1/1 print of their purchased shot they purchased. This will be the only print that will ever exist for this particular photo because One Shot destroys the negatives. Each featured photographer chooses the method of destruction for his/her edition.

EDITION ONE: BRIAN FINKE.

One Shot launches with fresh work from award-winning photographer, Brian Finke, whose iconic work featuring bodybuilders, flight attendants, high school cheerleaders and hip hop honeys has been published in books and exhibited around the world. His editorial photography appears regularly in The New York Times, Wired Magazine, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Esquire and Newsweek. For One Shot, Finke will shoot a roll of medium-format Fuji Pro 400H on his Hasselblad 503CW.

“It felt good, strange and fun,” Finke says of One Shot, “I was definitely more decisive about each frame I made, but still had the same laser focus.”

24 SHOTS ON SALE DECEMBER 5TH.

Brian Finke’s twenty four 1/1 photos will be available exclusively through oneshoteditions.com on December 5th, 2016 at 9 AM Eastern time. Each One Shot print costs $150 + shipping and comes with a copy of the One Shot Zine: Edition One. The zine includes an overview of the series, a Q&A with Brian Finke and an essay from the founders. It’s available separately for $10 + shipping.

A PASSION FOR ANALOG.

One Shot was created by Zack McDonald and Daan van Dam to help people reconnect with the mysterious and fragile beauty of analog photography.

According to McDonald, “There’s a wildness to analog photography that’s been all but forgotten. Having only a handful of chances to land that perfect shot is almost unthinkable. Waiting days or even weeks to find out if you got it is damn near unbearable. That way of shooting feels dangerous. And incredibly exciting. We want to remind people of that feeling.”

“We founded One Shot to highlight everything that’s remarkable about analog photography,” says van Dam. “We aim to do it in the most fun, interesting and accessible way possible. Where else can you get an affordable 1/1 original print from one of the best photographers in the world?”

FULL CREDITS.

Concept & Curation: Zack McDonald & Daan van Dam

Design & Art Direction: Zorica Radovic

Code: Hannah Smith

Production: Eva Koster & Sheri Radel Rosenberg

Film Edit: Herman Forsman

Film Music: Josephine Forsman & Herman Forsman

PRESS KIT.

Download the full press kit including hi-res imagery and video here.

LEARN MORE.

For more information contact: one@oneshoteditions.com

November 15, 2016 - No Comments!

Ms. Senior America

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 THE FABULOUS LITTLE WORLD OF THE MS. SENIOR AMERICA PAGEANT
For this national contest, you have to be at least 60 years young to compete.

The Atlantic City boardwalk is quiet in October. The sky is washed a sandy gray, and most of the carousels and bumper cars are locked up behind a large green fence. The beaches are deserted, save for the lone wanderer who craves privacy while speaking on her smartphone. Trump’s Taj Mahal, a once prominent hot spot on the oceanfront strip, now has white bars over the entrance doors, its many slot machines flashing for an audience of one — an on-duty security guard.

But in late October, if you were to wander into the Resorts Casino Hotel, walk past the blackjack tables and shops, and head up the escalator, you’d encounter a crowd of women gathered — all of a certain age, all decked out in sparkly gowns, heels, sashes and lots of makeup. Follow them down the corridor and you’d eventually reach a set of six or so mahogany doors leading inside the Superstar Theater. There, you’d find the 2016 National Ms. Senior America Pageant.

This year marks Ms. Senior America’s 36th year. Over the course of three days, 45 contestants between the ages of 60 and 90 gather from across the country to compete. They’ve each already won titles at the state and county levels. The show revolves around a three-part public competition: Evening gown presentations, talent performances and a special category called Philosophy of Life, where the contestants share a life “mantra,” are the main focus of the first two days. There’s also a formal interview, during which the women are sent into a hotel conference room to answer questions in private. The theater is filled with an audience of hundreds, mostly friends and family there to cheer the women on. But it’s the five distinguished judges — three men and two women — that this year’s contestants need to impress the most. They’re scoring the women on each category, narrowing the lineup down to 10 finalists, who compete again on the last day. Then, a winner is crowned. She’ll spend the next year visiting county fairs and other events nationwide.

DAY 1: SO MUCH GLITZ AND GLAMOUR

Around 1 p.m. on October 20, the curtains open to all 45 contestants, dressed in full evening attire. It’s complete eye candy — every color of the rainbow with more sparkles than a country sky at twilight. They’re swaying to the beat as Louis Parisi, a founding member of New Jersey’s Smooth Sailin’ Orchestra, croons an original song for the crowd. “They were wives, they were lovers, reading books to kids under the covers …” The women are dazzling — big hair and red lips — as they walk up to the microphone and introduce themselves, except for one senior in a stunning sequin dress who appears to have her eyes closed. She’s in a wheelchair, with her sash delicately placed over her chest. Louis moves closer and places his microphone near her mouth when it’s time for her introduction, as a hearty “Ms. Minnesota!” sounds through the speakers.

A few other gowns are also clear standouts. Ms. South Carolina, Pamela Cannon-Cook, wears a dress made almost entirely of peacock feathers, and Ms. Alabama, Elaine Willingham, a 62-year-old ballerina, has perfect posture as she walks in her black lace and velvet gown across the stage. Ms. Mississippi, Trina Schelton, is one of many in red, but crystal embroidery all along the bodice makes it stand out. You can’t help but smile watching each woman enjoy a solo moment in the spotlight before walking up to the microphone and presenting her Philosophy of Life.

“Rumor has it life is like a box of chocolates, you never know which one you’re gonna get! And I’m determined to try each and every one,” says Ms. Senior Alaska, Charlotte Werner Ambrose, who volunteers for veterans and at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

“Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day,” says Ms. Senior Texas, Sandy McCravy, a pediatric surgical nurse, who talks about calming parents’ fears while their kids are in the operating room.


The contestants all speak with fervor and without notes. During intermission, Gayle King, one of the judges and a former Ms. Senior America herself, talks about what she’s looking for in each contestant. “It will be that special someone who will go out on stage and will sparkle,” she says. In other words, she just has it.

There are some stumbles in the cadence — a curtain opens too early or a name is mispronounced, but all is quickly forgotten once a performance takes off. This year’s competition includes several tap dancers, singers and a cowboy poet, who tearfully describes her youngest son’s two tours in Iraq. But it’s Ms. Missouri, Peggy Lee Brennan, who brings down the house singing and tap dancing to “People Will Say We’re in Love” from the musical Oklahoma!.

Backstage, Ms. Nebraska (Shirley Fisher) bends down to help a fellow contestant pin on her sash, while Ms. Arkansas (Patricia Genovese) adjusts her crown.

DAY 2: THE HEART AND SOUL

The second day is much like the first: A second group of contestants are on tap to share their evening gowns, talents and Philosophies of Life. This time, Dr. Barbara Mauldin, the current Ms. Senior America, is emceeing alongside VinI Lopez, a drummer whose main claim to fame is backing Bruce Springsteen in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Louis Parisi kicks things off again with his pageant theme song.

“It’s been an experience of my life,” says Ms. Michigan, Sharon Peters, who performs “How Great Thou Art” on piano for her talent. “Whoever would have thought that someone who lived in Michigan and graduated in ’61 would ever be Ms. Senior Michigan.”

“I went to the Wheatland Blue Grass festival recently,” she recalls. “There were, like, 18,000 people there. I had a tie-dyed dress on, and I walked around with my sash and crown. I couldn’t take three steps without someone wanting to take a picture.”

This afternoon, she is presenting her Philosophy of Life, but admits she’s having a hard time remembering it.

“Last night, I got a call from my one son, that he’s been holding things back from me for about two months. He has a tumor on the back of his brain. He said, ‘I don’t want you to worry, Mom, I’m okay,'” she says. “I could not sleep. All I did was pray and tried to remember my philosophy — and I still don’t remember my philosophy. It was a rough night.”

Later, in the mint green ladies’ restroom backstage, Ms. Missouri, Peggy Lee Brennan, talks about her performance of “People Will Say We’re in Love” from the day before and reveals that this pageant is the first time she’s admitted her age since she was 23. “My agents wanted me to lie and I’m a good Catholic girl, so I would never tell,” the 62-year-old former actress says.

Brennan also confesses a simple mistake she made that morning: She walked into her private interview and stood behind her chair, ready to share her Philosophy of Life. The judges asked her to please sit down for the interview, that she’d get to share her philosophy on stage later that day. “‘Oh no,'” she recalls saying, bending her knees beneath her red dress as if she’s pleading. “At our state pageant, you do it all at once. That threw me.”

The more you talk to her, the more you realize things couldn’t have been that bad. In the ’70s, Brennan played Frenchie in Grease on Broadway, working with Patrick Swayze. She later met her husband, Geoff Haberer, while working on Applause in 1988. Considering those theater chops, the woman probably knows how to improvise.

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Brennan is a mother, but didn’t come into motherhood until she was 48. After years of looking into adoption, she and her husband were offered a baby girl from Nepal. Now 15, her daughter Heleena is the reason she got back into pageants.

“I did a pageant on Staten Island when I was 19,” Brennan says. “I was first runner-up. I wanted it, but it didn’t happen. I’ve been a pageant chaperone for three years with my daughter, and I got to see the Miss America system is all about service — all about sharing, volunteering, and using your talents to be a blessing in other people’s lives.”

Ms. Missouri, Peggy Lee Brennan, walking on stage to present her Philosophy of Life.

Near the end of the day, Ms. Minnesota, June Delores Lynne Lacey, is sitting in her wheelchair near the stage podium next to another woman, also in a wheelchair, who looks to be in her ’50s with grey hair pulled back in a long ponytail. It turns out her companion is her daughter, Joyce Lacey.

During the second day’s performances, the audience learns 87-year-old Ms. Minnesota is a comedian and actress, who has appeared in more than 22 films. During her pre-recorded talent routine, photos of her with celebrities and fans appear on the screen. In September 2014, June was named as Senior of the Year in her state, a nod to her 77 years of community service. Today, June has lost most of her vision — the result of a stroke she experienced just three weeks before the pageant — and can hardly hear or talk.

Joyce does most of the talking instead. She recounts how her mom helped her during her first scholarship pageant, when she was valedictorian in high school. “I went to Nationals and my first dress was $9.99 — I think it was a bridesmaid’s dress. It was peach. It was 1980,” she recalls.

As an adult, Joyce was in a major car accident. Trying to dodge a deer, she drove her vehicle down a 200-foot embankment; her injuries left her unable to walk. After she was released from the hospital, Joyce and her mother, who took on the role as her Personal Care Attendant (PCA), shared a room at a Days Inn for about $25 a day until Joyce could move into an apartment of her own again. Doctors told Joyce she should’ve been completely paralyzed, “but I think the Lord knew I would have to do this down the road,” she says.

After about 15 minutes of chatting, Joyce volunteers her mom for an interview. When asked, “What does it mean for you to be here this week?” Joyce repeats the question louder for her mother, closer to her right ear.

June is unresponsive, so her Joyce chimes in again: “I know she told the judges that it was such a great honor and privilege, and she would cherish it for the rest of her life.”

“Is that true?” she prompts her mom. “Like what you said to the judges? Mom?”

Ms. Minnesota (June Lacey) and her daughter, Joyce Lacey. June suffered a Hemorrhagic stroke three weeks before the pageant, but it was her dream to compete at Nationals.

I tell Joyce I just want to ask her one last question: “Do you have a favorite memory with your mom?”

She thinks about it and says, “I have so many, to be honest. I just cherish her so much and I thank God for her every day.”

Out of the blue, June speaks up: “It’s my dream. Most people don’t get that experience. I’m just lucky to get it.”

It’s not clear if she’s talking about the pageant or about being a mother. Maybe it’s both.

DAY 3: A WINNER IS CROWNED

By the third and final day of the pageant, the entire audience can practically sing along to Louis Parisi’s opening song: ” … but what I know, they cannot hide … besides their beauty and their pride … they still all have, the little girl inside.”

And if the theater felt crammed before, it looks twice as packed by the finalist round. There are more photographers and reporters in the room, and people are just anxious. After the National Anthem and lengthy judge introductions, which the regulars have heard twice already, the day’s emcee, pageant Vice President Louise Ferla, comes to the stage to announce the Top 10 finalists: Alabama, Missouri, California, Mississippi, New York, Maryland, Tennessee, Iowa, Louisiana and Oregon.

Backstage, emotions are raw.

After suffering a major foot injury at 51, Ms. Alabama (Elaine Willingham) performed for the first time in 11 years at the 2016 Ms. Senior America pageant.

“I’m trying to understand … and crying!” says one finalist, Ms. Tennessee, Noelani DeRossett.

“I’m so elated!” yells another finalist, Ms. Mississippi, Trina Schelton, in passing.

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Meanwhile, the pageant coordinator is hollering commands at the final 10. “Take off your crown and banner and get back up there in the order you were told,” she says. “Go, go, go!”

For those who didn’t make the cut, there is an obvious change in morale. Some of the women, still in their evening gowns, gather with sodas and water around a white plastic table.

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“I was sure you were going to be in the Top 10,” Ms. Virginia, Rebecca Tebbs Nunn, says to Ms. Oklahoma, Dove Morgan Schmidt.

“That’s okay because God governs everything I do,” Nunn replies.

Ms. Mississippi reveals she almost couldn’t compete today because one of her porcelain teeth fell out and got lost on the dance floor at last night’s pageant ball. “I went back to a little corner and started praying and I asked God to bring that crown back to me and praise the Lord he did. Some lady found it and turned it in.”

“I never dreamed at 70 years old I would be doing this,” she says, smiling in a bright red gown. The singer was married to Troy Shondell, a teen idol from the ’70s, but lost him to a seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in January.

“I was lost when he passed,” she says. “I didn’t have anything to look forward to and then all of the sudden God brought me this opportunity to meet so many other people. I just feel his spirit with me, he’s giving me the strength and courage to do this.”

The 10 finalists must go through their routines one more time. With all the passion she can muster, Ms. Mississippi performs “Where the Boys Are,” the title song of a comedy film written by George Wells in 1960. Ms. Missouri then nails one last rendition of “People Will Say We’re in Love,” breathless by the time the song is over. After each finalist performs, the results are tallied and it’s time for the big reveal. Family members and friends shift nervously in their seats and the lights blink red, signaling that the emcees are free to announce the winners. Second runner-up goes to Ms. Alabama, a 62-year-old ballerina who performed on pointe. First runner-up is Ms. Maryland, Sherri McGhie, who sang a soulful “When You’re Good to Mama” from Chicago. And, at last, the winner: Ms. Missouri, Peggy Lee Brennan. She’s overjoyed and trades her state crown for the national one.

Brennan’s daughter, Heleena, sporting her own Miss Outstanding Teen sash, cheers near the front of the stage. “I knew she was going to win,” she says. “I’m just so excited for her because I know this has been a dream of hers since she was 19 years old.”

But it’s Brennan’s husband, Geoff, who seems the most sentimental about Peggy’s win: “The moment I first saw her, we exchanged glances from across the rehearsal studio and she had that unbelievable smile. I looked at her and tears came out of my eyes. She’s been my soul mate since the day we met.”

As the crowd pours out of the theater, a pack of photographers snap pictures of the runners-up along with the newly-crowned 2016 Ms. Senior America on stage. Minutes later, Brennan gets the photographers to herself, and Geoff and Heleena join her and the rest of their family for more pictures.

Ms. Minnesota’s daughter, Joyce, looks on from her wheelchair in the curtain wings. Like Heleena, she also knew it was her mother’s dream to be at this pageant, and despite her stroke, she was determined to come.

“A lot of people in my mom’s situation would just stay home and close the drapes,” she had said the day before. “But she’s trying to get out there.”

And she’s right. Winning or losing doesn’t really feel like the point of the pageant. It’s getting out there — proving to yourself that you can still dance in your 80s, or do your stand-up routine even after life hands you a stroke.

And there’s always next year.

Every contestant in this pageant had a story to tell. To read more about them, go here

All photography by Brian Finke