I’ve become my family’s unofficial historian. When an older family member passes or someone runs out of room, I’m given boxes of old photos. Many are from the early 1900’s and being a photographer, I just can’t throw them away. I’ve seen glimpses of my dad as a young boy; always smiling with a shock of dark hair on top of his lanky frame; and my mom with a little, freckled pouting face. (She still hates having her picture taken.) Many are of my Grandmother, Mary who was born in 1906.
By the time I came along, my Grandmother was well into her 50’s. I had no idea the hard life she had lived as the daughter of an itinerate farmer. Like so many her age, she rarely talked about the past. One of only 2 girls in a family of 7 children she once told me that she had to help with household chores as well as work in hot, Texas fields when the cotton or watermelons needed harvesting. She was a pragmatic, tough woman and if I had seen these photos when she was still around, I would have spent hours asking her about them.
In these sepia photos, she always seems to be having fun. She seemed to have a deep bond with her sister Jo, and many of the photos had smiling girlfriends with long since forgotten names. She was stylish and had a rebellious look in her eyes. In fact, she looked like she’d be fun to hang out with. I cherish these photos of the young woman I had no idea existed until it was too late to ask her about them.
Thank you Mary, for reminding me why I feel called to be a photographer. Thank you for not saying, “No! I look terrible today. Don’t take my picture!” Thank you for not waiting for the perfect setting or the perfect day. Thank you for enjoying having your photo taken. Your granddaughter now sees you for the fun, independent, vivacious young woman you were.
As a documentary/editorial photographer, I hear so many excuses. “ I want to book a day-in-the-life shoot, but I’m waiting until I lose 10 pounds.” “I love the idea of you coming to our home and doing an editorial shoot, but my house is always messy.” Please. Just stop. I’m capturing so much more than your weight or your house. (Those things are seldom even seen in editorial shots.) I’m capturing WHO you are. I’m capturing the woman that YOUR granddaughter will see when she is a grandmother. Please leave her with photographs that will let her get to know who you were. She will someday thank you for it.