Photographing the People You Love– My Grandma!

We all know that photography is an incredible tool for capturing moments and preserving memories. Many people remember the experiences of their lives through the snapshots that recorded them. They chronicle these memories in albums, keepsake boxes, or display them on their walls.

For me in particular, photography has been essential for preserving memories. Not only is photography my life’s passion, but I’ve always had a weak memory for events. Its kinda of depressing really, while I remember emotions, scents, and just the ‘feel’ of a moment the details often evade me.

I recently have realized that I do not have enough photos of my family and the ones I love. This past week while I was out in LA to teach for Sigma at the American Photo Model Shoot, I also went to visit my grandma in Laguna.

 

Grandma Rita is 83 years old and has always really hated having her photo taken. Whenever a camera would come out she would turn away and put a grimace on her face. I’m not sure where her aversion to cameras came from... I never quite figured it out. But as a photographer I always found it frustrating that she wouldn’t let me photograph her. She’s an important part of my life and who I am, and yet I’ve never had the opportunity to take her photo.

Photographing the People You Love, Grandma Rita, by Lindsay Adler
I've always thought that worn hands are beautiful. Yet aged and worn hands are even more beautiful when you know the life story behind them. When you can picture the life attached to these hands and the stories they have to tell... that becomes even more precious.

 

Years ago on her 50th anniversary with my grandfather she allowed me to take a photo of the two of them. She still has the portrait enlarged on her wall where she can remember my grandfather and that special day they shared with their family.

 

On this trip to visit her I decided I would make it a major goal to sneak a few photos of her. Not to be morbid, but as she reaches into her mid 80’s I realize I may have limited time to capture these memories.

Photographing the People You Love, Grandma Rita, by Lindsay Adler
Grandma has always been a fun mix of 'hard and soft'. She is blunt and tells it like it is, but at the same time is soft and loving.

 

My grandmother has had an extremely difficult time during the last decade of her life. During one of the rolling blackouts in California she went to light a candle and caught her nightgown on fire, severely burning a majority of her body. She was strong and persevered, and recovered to the point that she could still achieve most of her daily routine as normal. Unfortunately, these severe burns and skin surgeries caused her extreme and constant pain. After my grandfather passed away, the pain got worse and she visited a doctor to discuss more intense treatment. The doctor decided to administer an epidural (needle to the spine) to reduce the pain. Horribly, he somehow screwed up and instead of reducing her pain he paralyzed her from the waist down. Ever since she has lost all abilities to take care of herself and must have 24-hour care. She cannot walk and cannot even sit up straight by herself. Mentally she has remained relatively fit and aware, yet she is trapped in her body.

 

Sometimes it amazes me how strong a person can be. She suffered many of the most horrible things you can experience in life-- loosing a husband, being severely burned, being paralyzed-- all within a decade. Yet she still has a vivacious personality. While understandably her thirst for life isn’t as strong as it used to be, she still is fun to talk to and be around. In her youth she was a writer, and I believe that is where I get some of my own writing abilities. Her vocabulary is still impressive and her grasp of language is beautiful, even if I can see her slowly losing grip of some of the eloquence she once had.

Photographing the People You Love, Grandma Rita, by Lindsay Adler
This photo really caught my eye because I feel like it looks so much like my little sister. When you look at photos of my sister when she was very young and compare it to photos of my grandma when she was very young, the resemblance is startling. It was fascinating to see this expression, and expression I recognize from my sister.

While I was visiting her, her caretaker was pushing her in a wheelchair and I shouted “Wait! Wait! The light is perfect!” and I pulled out my camera. To my absolute amazement, she didn’t turn away. She cast her eye downward timidly but eventually looked up with a laugh and a smile. I probably got a good solid 3 minutes photographing her... it doesn’t sound like a lot, but since she had NEVER been willing to participate before I was delighted.

Photographing the People You Love, Grandma Rita, by Lindsay Adler
This photo makes me laugh because this is when my grandma was saying "Girl, give the old woman a break!". I had only been photographing a couple minutes at most, and she was done with her 'model photo session'. She has always hated getting her photograph taken, but graciously let me snap away for about 2-3 minutes.

I cannot tell you why she agreed to pose this time. Perhaps she knows how I feel, that I need to capture these memories before its too late. Perhaps its because she’s to the point where she just doesn’t care about having someone take her photo. Or maybe she just understands how important photography is to me. Whatever the reason, I was more than thrilled (even honored) to be able to snap these few priceless photos.

 

PS: All of these images were taken by window light (by the patio sliding door about 10 feet from her in these images). The background was not a background, but due to light fall-off, the background became black because it was far enough behind her. I am SO used to retouching images, that it was very interesting with this shoot that I WANTED the age, the wrinkles, the textures and the LIFE to show through.

 

  • Gorgeous Lindsay!

  • Julia

    What a sad, yet delightful story! Your love for her is well portrayed in the story and the photographs. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and privileged to see the rare pictures of your grandmother. Nice job, Lindsay!

  • rontuaru

    This really plucks at my heartstrings. I lost all of my grandparents before I was old enough to actually appreciate them. Sadly, I know that they were all wonderful, interesting, loving, but somewhat mysterious people. I have perhaps one or two pictures of each, not so much because they didn’t want their pictures taken, but because everyone was too busy living in the moment to take pictures. I’m sure your grandma let you capture these wonderful photos because they are important to you, and at that very moment, the reason for her aversion was suddenly less so. This was her gift to you.

    Like your grandma, I used to avoid being photographed. One day I realized that having my picture taken really isn’t about ME, and from that moment on I’ve been more cooperative. I think somewhere along the line I was led to believe that only beautiful women should be photographed. Not fitting that description, I was embarrassed. How vain is that? Perhaps it takes getting older to learn that it’s the little things we can do that make others happy. I’m glad your grandma was willing to put aside her issues and share herself with you in this way. Lovely work, as always!

  • Lovely…

  • Lindsay, this is why photography is important. Capturing memories and emotions. Nice.

  • ali

    she is so beautiful. how special are these!

  • This is just beautiful! I wish I had my family close to me to do the same.
    Well done!

  • Aww this made me tear up a little. These are beautiful portraits. I love the simplicity, the realness and her emotion. I also love the written content of this post as well. It’s nice to see this side of your work. It is just as moving (if not more) as your other work. Nice.

  • This is such a beautiful post, Lindsay. Thank you for sharing this special piece of your life with us. She looks and sounds like beautiful, remarkable woman to know. I am glad you had a great visit with her 🙂

  • MIRNA VANEK

    THIS PICTURE ARE A TREASURE THANK YOU LINSAY.
    YOU ARE A VERY SPECIAL PERSON AND WE ENJOYED SPENDING SOME TIME WITH YOU AND SHE HAVE A WONDERFUL TIME SPENDING TIME WITH YOU, AND ME TOO. I WISH YOU THE BEST.
    LOVE ALWAYS MIRNA

  • I loved your images of your grandmother. I have already lost my Mom and am enjoying every minute I can with my Dad. He is entering a new time in his life. He has fallen in love again after being alone for the last four years. I can’t tell you how important it is to capture the happiness he feels. To have the gift to actually capture these moments is a gift God has given me. I love to see such a professional like you stop to enjoy the love ones that are in our family. As a professional myself it is sometimes hard to stop and take the most important images of all; our loved ones. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thanks so much for sharing these! I love to photograph family in natural expressions.
    You really captured her personality and rich life in these.
    Also wanted to let you know that I found you through your book linked photographer’s guide…
    It is the most amazing book and I’ve found myself looking back through it ten times and finding new information I missed before! Thanks for writing it! It’s been helpful to me since I’m just starting out.

  • Amelia Jackson

    This is absolutely BEAUTIFUL!

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  • Dear Lindsay! You’ve touched my heart so much by writing about your grandma. I first read what you learned from her and it gives inspiration to me to be strong and move on no matter what. Also I liked that she stated there is no excuse for youself cos your life is as good as you make it. Really powerful words. Then I got to this page and saw more really emotional images and read a story of her late years. She was really a strong woman to undergo such a terrible ordeal. Reading that made me feel her suffering. And yet she still remained very strong and beautiful. Now I’m seeing her in you.

    My one grandmother has turned 80 this year, the other – 75. They are the only grandparents I have and also my moms, because I’ve lost my mother 4 years ago. Writing this makes me filled with tears. I knew the importance of photograpphy to keep memories for yers, so I was recording her on video. Now I realize that the time of my grandmoms is limited, so I will rush to make a documentary film about them. Thank you for restating this importance.

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