Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Camera Shy

So this past December I was sitting down at my Grandmother’s house on Christmas morning as we were exchanging gifts and looked across the room at 'Granny' (who was like a grandmother to me as a kid). She sat there with her red-tipped cane, smiling. I thought her 92-year-old face was full of character and she seemed to be truly enjoying herself. I thought to myself that I need to do a portrait of her -- a few seconds later I decided I should also see about doing a portrait of not only her, but Mama Dot (my actual grandmother) and Mema. Just to be clear, both Mema and Granny are like grandmothers to me as well -- I am only related to them through marriage but have been raised around them and always approach them with the same respect I would my Grandmother.

I knew my work would be cut out for me, as I already knew both Mama Dot and Mema were not fans of having there photos made at all. So I moseyed on over to Granny on the couch and ask if she would let me do a portrait of her that afternoon. With a worried look she reached up with both hands, grabbing her hair, saying something along the lines of 'Baby, I would have to have something done with my hair first.' I quickly told her there was no need to worry about that and that I thought she looked amazing just as she was -- I wasn't lying to her either. She seemed to be encouraged by this, so I mentioned about coming over that afternoon to her house to do the shots and she agreed.

So after this I went to scheming over how to do everything. Not just on how I wanted to photograph them but how I was going to get both Mema and Mama Dot to let me photograph them. I came up with a plan and went at it. The shooting part was pretty simple -- I wanted to get a portrait of all three of them in the chairs they always sat in while at home and then another portrait of each one standing in front of some black felt I happened to have with me. It was the only background like material I had with me that would give some consistency between all three shots. The shots in their chairs were meant to have a casual feel to them and the portraits in front of the black background were meant to be more traditional -- a very honest look at what they look like at this point in their life with no effort to hide either wrinkles or skin blemishes through lighting or in post production. I wanted to capture each of them the way those that loved them saw them on a day-to-day basis, and not the way they may look on Easter Sunday at church after having their hair all made up and such.

So I woke Granny from a nap Christmas afternoon when I came over to do the shots. She cruised into the living room with her walker and pretty much gave me all the time I wanted to do as many shots of her as I wanted. I think both of our efforts paid off...

Click on each image to see it larger if you like.

The Chair Shot:

And the traditional portrait:

Here are a couple of extras I got of her that I felt were too good not to share as well:

I left her place that afternoon feeling great about what I got out of her. She seemed to have a good time with it all so that made it all the better for both of us. I went on to my folks’ place and quickly processed out a couple of the files that stood out to me (the first two seen above) to show both Mama Dot and Mema. As planned, I think them seeing those first shots of Granny worked to my advantage as did knowing that it was likely that neither one of them would want to be the one person that refused to let me photograph them.

Here are the two shots I got of my grandmother, Mama Dot that I was most happy with:

Once I felt like a I had a couple of good shots of her I mentioned to my Uncle James (who was there at the time) about doing a shot of both me and her together. I showed him what to do with my camera and then got in the shot. Right as he was about to take the shot I kissed her on the check. He was a little late catching that but caught something even better instead -- the look of pure disgust with me over the situation I had her in -- a split second after I had kissed her. Where's the love, Mama Dot?

I'm so proud to have that shot with us together -- it captures her to a tee. She is not one to hold back on letting you know when she doesn't like something and this shot shows it.

So I left there once again feeling thrilled to have had her let me do the portraits of her. Two down, one to go. So I made my way on over to Mema's house again, pretty certain that she would go ahead and let me do the shots of her as well. I sat and talked with her for a while and then ended up getting these two shots which I thought were great of her:

So I have now spent over a month now looking at these photos on and off, trying to decide which shots to show and how to process them. Processing some of them out and then reprocessing them, worrying about making the wrong choice. Trying my best to make sure that there will not be anything for any one of the three to feel bad about once they see them. Last night after I started writing this, I thought I would call each of them and find out if there was any one quote or any words of wisdom they might want to share with anybody that might read this post. This is what I got:

Edith 'Granny' Hudson said:

"From Genesis to Revelation -- I believe it's true."

She is currently 92 and will be 93 in October. She has two children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren with twins on the way. Sadly, she is nearly blind so she will never be able to clearly see the shots I made of her. I can only hope that her family will tell her that I did a good job and captured a little of her personality in them.

Dorothy 'Mama Dot' Reaves said:

"I have nothing to say at this time."

I found this quite funny and ironic since she always seems quite willing to express her opinion on life in general, what somebody might be wearing, anything -- the woman doesn't hold back. I love calling her by her first name by the way -- I like the name Dorothy; it's just fun to say. She has three children, six grandchildren (including me) and eight great-grandchildren with another on the way. She is 84 and will be 85 in December.

Helen 'Mema' McHargue said:

"Family is everything to me -- and that means I'm a very rich woman because of the family I have."

Anybody that has been over to the McHargue family house on Christmas Eve knows this is true. I crash that party every year just because it is good to be around people that are so happy and loving toward each other. Mema has five children, ten grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren with another one on the way. She is 82 and will turn 83 in April.

I truly hope that I have given an honest representation of who each of these ladies are through all of this. I love each of them and so appreciate that they allowed me to photograph them. Thank you Mama Dot, Granny and Mema -- I hope that you will see these shots and feel good about and appreciate who you are -- knowing that a whole lot of other people do, too.



Jennifer Bowen said...


This is a beautiful post, and each photograph you shared clearly has a story in itself. I think you did an amazing job capturing their personality in each picture, and I have no doubt they are all three lovely women.

Keith Taylor Photography said...

Thanks Jennifer -- glad you liked it. I'm hoping those mentioned in it will feel the same about it. I'm somewhat expecting a verbal scolding from my grandmother though. That's ok though -- I'll still love her anyway.


Justin said...


Great post. Thanks for sharing it bro. Makes me want to go grab my camera and sit my folks down.

Anonymous said...

Words cannot express the perfection that you captured with these 3 beautiful and strong matriarchs. When I saw the pictures, I just had to cry. Then when I read your descriptions and quotes, I cried even harder. I have a special place in my heart for each one of these women. I agree with Mema, blood or by marriage, family is everything. We are a rich group of people! Thank you for sharing these.
Shannon Curtis

Keith Taylor Photography said...

Jason -- thanks man -- glad you liked it. If it made you want to do portraits of your folks' then don't wait, just do it. They are not guaranteed a tomorrow -- nor or you.

Shannon -- matriarch IS an excellent word to describe all three of them isn't it. Thank you so much for the kind words though -- this was one of the toughest blog post I have ever written I think. It started out as five typed pages in a Word document -- I ended up editing it down to what you see here. The photos mean and say far more to me, and for me, respectively, than anything I could have said here though. I did them all as a gift to my family down there and you're part of it -- so I'm thrilled that you like them. Now lets just keep our fingers crossed that Mema and Mama Dot will as well. I so wish that Granny was able to see well enough to get and idea of how they came out as well.

Melissa McHargue Keahey said...

Oh Keith!!!! I am simply speechless...touched so deeply by your pictures and words of three women that have made such an incredible impact on my own life. Thank you for doing this, man. It's worth millions to those who know and love Mema, Granny and Mama Dot.
We will all cry like Big Daddy :)

Anonymous said...

You just brought me to tears.

I, too, grew-up with those ladies in my life and I can't believe how well you've captured their spark and energy. What a wonderful tribute!
Katie Waldrep

Clara Floyd said...

If you live within 50 miles (well maybe a millon miles) of Lovett your life has been touched by these three women. I count myself
so blessed to have known these great women. Also I bet you will get a lot of request for copies of these photos. Sign me up
Clara Floyd (Katie Waldrep's Mom)

Mike said...


Unspeakably beautiful. Our culture is needlessly obsessed with youth, so it's refreshing to see photography that highlights the beauty of wisdom, heritage and time.


-Mike McHargue (the red headed one).

Kelly Waldrep Poirrier said...

What a gift this post is. I have also loved these wonderful women my whole life. Thank you for taking the time to honor them!

Debbie McHargue said...


You did a fantastic job on all three ladies. They all mean a lot to me although I'm a "little" partial to MeMa. I've been her daughter-in-law almost 39 years and I can vouch that her family is everything to her. She also means everything to each and every one of us. Let us know when copies are available.

Debbie McHargue

Jessica Coker Galbraith said...

This is simply amazing! I am completely speechless. Tears were streaming as I let out a little chuckle reading each entry and looking at these photos. I know that WE will all cherish what you have done here for many, many years to come. Thank you for sharing this!

Keith Taylor Photography said...

Thank all of you so much for the kind words. Mema, Mama Dot and Granny are the ones to thank though. None of these shots would have be possible to do had they not allowed me to photograph them. I'm so glad to see that it seems to have been worth the effort out of them and myself though. I'm amazed at the effect that you tell me they seemed to have made on you. It's always unreal to see the emotional effect some of my photos have had on people. I very much appreciate you all taking the time to read my post and share your thoughts on it.



Sunshinesmiles said...

Hi Keith:
Thank you so much for capturing the sincere wisdom, nature and love in the photos of these three great ladies. I have the honor of being the daughter of Granny. She has not only been my "Mama" but she has taught me so much about life; but the most important thing she has taught me is what it truly means "to have a close relationship with God". She has lived that kind of life before my brother and myself plus our children and grands...
She has always been ready to help... she has a gift of hospitality.
Mama Dot & Aunt Helen have always been special to my family and me. When I was a kid (many moons ago) I always loved going to Uncle Harold and Aunt Helen's during the holidays because the McHargue crew always have known how to have a great time just being together.
Thank you again for such wonderful photos and your heartfelt blog; you truly captured the true spirit of these three great ladies. We will cherish them forever. Love ya!

Jeannie Page

Anonymous said...

Keith, There is little I can add that others have not already said, except "Amen"!! You've done a beautiful job capturing the inner beauty of these ladies. "Granny" (my aunt Edith)and Aunt Helen Sue are so precious to me. They have been a huge part of my life all of my life. Just today I went to Walmart to buy frames for the pictures I printed. I will treasure them always!! Laney