This is the first post I’ve written since my Mother died in November after several years struggle with dementia (see my blog post May, 15, 2012 “Do You Remember Mother’s Day?” http://bit.ly/12o0OBx ). While her passing wasn’t totally unexpected, the loss has been tremendous. She would have been 91 on Wednesday, February 6.
It’s been said that the current Queen Elizabeth of England is the most photographed woman in the world. I think she’s second; my mother had to have been the most photographed. During a 65-year marriage to my father, a portrait photographer who owned a studio for 40 years until he finally retired at age 70, my Mother patiently and graciously posed before his camera whenever my Dad asked.
All artists tend to have favorite models; my mother was undoubtedly my father’s. She was a classic beauty of the 1940s, when in her twenties. They met after my father returned from the Army in World War II. She was 23 and working as an executive assistant to the president of a savings and loan in my father’s hometown of Parsons, Ks. My mother had moved to Parsons from Missouri after high school to attend the business college in town. My father fell in love with her upon first sight. ‘She was so beautiful,’ he says. After dating two weeks, he told my mother if she didn’t marry him he would rejoin the Army.
Apparently, she was as much in love with him as he was with her because she agreed. When her boss wouldn’t give her the two months off to join my father and marry him in Phoenix, Az., where he had gone to race greyhound dogs for his brother-in-law and sister, she quit and went anyway. Thus began a long and devoted marriage.
Their wedding photos are charming and demonstrated my father’s growing interest in photography. Upon returning to Kansas, my father decided to study photography for a career. He had picked up a camera while in Europe during the War and took pictures of the places and events he was seeing whenever he could, developing his film in creeks and his pup tent and storing his rolls of negatives that needed to still be washed in jars. He made it home with the pictures that he taken, pictures that now offer testament to the perils of war as seen through the eyes of a young farm boy turned soldier on the front.
I suppose he had seen enough ugliness to last a lifetime during the 2 ½ years that he was overseas as when he finally decided to make photography his career, he chose to make beautiful portraits of people. My mother proved to be a perfect subject for many of them.
As a young apprentice learning the art of portraiture, he studied the Old Masters of art—Rembrandt being his favorite—along with mastering the technical skills a photographer must know. Whenever he needed practice perfecting a lighting set up, posing techniques or trying out a new idea or new equipment, he asked my mother to serve as his subject. Consequently, her life was well documented through his portraits.
You can see the changes of fashion in clothing and hair and make up through the years as my mother changed along with them. She was always interested in keeping up with the latest styles, although the ‘mod-ish’ looks of the 60s era wasn’t to her liking. Hers was a much more ‘classic’, almost Grace Kelly look, with soft, feminine haircuts and clothing that always flattered her.You can also see in these many portraits the love that existed between my parents as the years continued to pass. Certainly, there were times when my mother wasn’t thrilled with sitting still before the camera when there were accounts to balance, a dinner to cook, or because she was just tired from a day’s work. But more often than not, she granted my father’s request.
She became a pro at posing, knowing just how to place her feet, hold her hand, or tip her head. And, of course, she always had the most lovely sweet smile.
All those portraits are now cherished family treasures; beautiful, visual memories of my mother who died this past November after years of struggling with dementia. I see her everyday in the framed portraits I’ve placed around my home, the wallet-sized prints I carry with me and on the digitized images that I uploaded to my computer.
I know my father, now 93, misses her terribly as their lives were intertwined for 65 years in an enduring love story of a photographer and his favorite model.