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.
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.
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.
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.
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.