Anne Noggle, 83; Photographed Older Women

Times Staff Writer

Anne Noggle, a photographer and former World War II pilot known for her keen self-portraits and images of older women that bared the imperfections and character of age, has died. She was 83.

Noggle, who had a major stroke two years ago, died in her sleep Aug. 16 at her home in Albuquerque.

Often compared with Julia Margaret Cameron, the 19th century English photographer, Noggle focused on the effects of aging. She described her subject as "the saga of the fallen flesh."

She generally photographed people she knew, approaching them with humor, honesty and respect. One memorable photo, for example, shows her mother in the bathroom holding her false teeth. In another photo, Noggle amplified a woman's wrinkles by shooting through rippled glass.

"The profound dignity in the women's faces, as well as the admiration and affection with which Ms. Noggle depicts them, is tempered by the sharp sense of physical loss the pictures express," Charles Hagen wrote in a 1991 review for the New York Times.

Noggle became her best-known subject in a portrait of herself after plastic surgery. "Face-lift No. 3, 1975" showed Noggle when she was 53, with eyes blackened and ringed with stitches. Mocking her own vanity, she holds a flower in her mouth.

In the background is a model airplane, a reminder of her daring youth, when she was one of the 1,000 women who flew noncombat missions during World War II for the Women Air Force Service Pilots, or WASP.

Noggle, who grew up in Evanston, Ill., dreamed of becoming a pilot after seeing Amelia Earhart at an air show in Chicago.

When Noggle was 17, her mother, a bookstore manager, agreed to flying lessons despite her own mother's warning that they were tantamount to a death warrant.

At 21, Noggle was in Sweetwater, Texas, training to become a WASP, the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft .

She flew missions in 1943 and 1944. After the war ended and the corps was disbanded, she became a crop-duster in the Southwest and flew stunts in an aerial circus. When the Air Force offered commissions to former WASPs, she applied and was a pilot during the Korean War. She retired as a captain when she developed emphysema.

Her Air Force commission had taken her to Paris, where frequent visits to the Louvre ignited an artistic impulse. Back in the States, she enrolled at the University of New Mexico as an art history major. She earned a bachelor's degree in fine art in 1966 and a master's in 1969.

She intended to become an art historian but changed her mind after taking a photography course that was required for her major. After seeing her photographs, her professor, Van Deren Coke, persuaded her that her true talent lay behind a lens.

She was 48 when she had her first one-woman show, at a gallery in Taos, N.M., in 1970. Over the next two decades, she won a number of major grants, including three from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She taught at the University of New Mexico from 1970 to 1984.

She discovered what became her most enduring subject early in her career, when she began taking portraits of her aging mother, Agnes, in the 1970s. She used her NEA grants to take a series of photos of older women in Seattle and rural Texas.

"She felt that when women got to a certain age, they became unseen and unheard," said Thomas Barrow, a photographer and retired professor of art history, explaining Noggle's fascination with aging.

That theme runs throughout her three books, beginning with "Silver Lining" in 1984. She paid homage to her fellow women pilots in "For God, Country and the Thrill of It: Women Airforce Service Pilots in World War II" (1990) and " A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II" (1994).

For the last book, she made more than half a dozen trips to the former Soviet Union to photograph and take oral histories from 69 women members of the Soviet air force, the first women to fly in combat. She developed tight bonds with the women, whose bravery went largely uncelebrated in their own country, and raised money for their medical treatment through sales of her photos.

"She had a real feeling for the diminished power that older women were experiencing. I think she wanted to show people that they were still extraordinary," said Betty Hahn, a retired University of New Mexico photography professor who knew Noggle for 29 years.

She often photographed herself in the nude, producing images that were both sensual and witty; an example is "Stella by Starlight," which shows a naked Noggle emerging from a steam bath, flanked by two young men. She often told interviewers that many of these photos came about because she could not find anyone else to agree to the pose she had in mind.

"Students loved her frankness and her wit," said Michele Penhall, curator of prints and photographs at the University of New Mexico Art Museum.

Noggle was known for her brusque military bearing and outspoken manner. She said she never married because she didn't have room in her life for a husband. "I belong to me," Noggle, who is survived by a niece, told the Albuquerque Journal several years ago.

When she underwent cosmetic surgery, it struck some people as a contradiction. How could she celebrate the marks of age in others while erasing the lines in her own face?

"I asked her about that once," Barrow said. "She said, 'I just looked at those baggy eyes one morning and I just felt I didn't want to look as old as I look. I feel so young.' She understood the indignities of age but didn't want to suffer them herself."

Far from hiding the truth, however, she documented the surgery for all who cared to see.

"I hope that all of my images have or hold in some sense the heroics of confronting life," she told the Christian Science Monitor years ago.

"I'm trying to humanize the middle-aged and older, to find a new perspective that ... [lets] them be a viable part of society. I cannot view life as a tragedy alone."

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