Photographic artist Ponch Hawkes was surprised at how easy it was to recruit women aged over 50 to take their clothes off for a nude photographic exhibition, with people travelling from all over Victoria to take part.

Ponch Hawkes found a broken camera in a cupboard and the rest is history.

Ponch’s 500 Strong exhibition is part of Flesh After Fifty, a health initiative that aims to challenge negative stereotypes of female aging

Ponch says whilst some women jumped at the chance to celebrate their bodies, others felt compelled to take part.

‘They felt it was important to be photographed, that it was their responsibility. Others felt embarrassed by their bodies but they were going to do it anyway. Quite a number of women had single or double mastectomies and did it because they felt like they were still there, they were still women and they wanted to say, “You can still get on with your life”.’

The 500 Strong project is just one of three major, and socially important works Ponch has been commissioned to produce in the past year.

‘I'm lucky. I feel like I'm just being celebrated for my skills,’ Ponch says.

They are skills that she has honed over five decades after a great ‘meet cute’ story — Girl finds broken camera. Girl fixes camera. Girl falls in love with camera. And, as in all great stories, the happy ending is that Australia has fallen in love with what Ponch has created with her camera, with her work exhibited in the Australian National Gallery, the National Gallery of Victoria and the State Library Victoria.

‘The best part is when someone comes to you and says, “I saw your exhibition and I just can't tell you how it really affected me. It really changed the way I thought about things and it really made me want to take up sculpture, take up the camera, be an acrobat”. That’s pretty great.’

Watch Ponch's Festival Reimagined interview