I have posted about this before, but I still receive a lot of questions about this little series we created, so here is the whole story. Many who know me are familiar with my fascination with old portraits. I have several vintage portraits of my maternal grandmother throughout my home, and since I was a pre-teen, people would marvel at how much they thought I resembled her. I could see the resemblance, but it's never the same from your own perspective, just how much you favor someone else. After all, we see ourselves very differently than others see us, based on angles, expressions, etc., which we generally do not see of ourselves.
As I grew up, though, I started to be amazed at how much I did look like her, and even today, in my late 30s, I see a lot of resemblance to her at this same age. I was always flattered with the comparison because she was beautiful and exotic (and really maybe the coolest woman I've ever known).
Fast forward to becoming a portrait photographer who has a penchant for the vintage.. I have a very talented friend, Ali Williams, who is a hair and makeup artist and we began working together. She was actually my next door neighbor (our only neighbor) when we moved to Bella Vista when I was in Jr. High. We reconnected when we both lived in Fayetteville and I was thrilled to know someone with such talent. She was meticulously creating vintage hair and makeup styles as a hobby more than anything, often in the exact same ways they were originally created, (that is, before flat irons, modern curling irons, sock buns etc). She researched old publications and tutorials and often styled the hair and makeup totally authentically. She is a true artist and her vintage styling is outstanding. Go have a look at her page for Bouffants and Beehives to be blown away and see other projects we have collaborated on together. We had a conversation one day when she was at my house about my grandmother's portrait and she commented on my physical resemblance to her as well. We decided then and there to do a series together, to re-create the portrait I had of my grandmother and see just how close we could get to making me look like her. Unfortunately, I am over twenty years older than my grandmother was in the portrait we re-created, but I still wanted to try, because heck, I'm not Benjamin Button. We also decided to do some others, because we loved the premise behind it and re-creating vintage photographs is just really flipping fun to be honest. We later created Ali's mother's portrait, also a graduation portrait, and my assistant, Lindsey's grandmother's portrait. We think Lindsey's grandmother's portrait was an engagement portrait for an announcement. We all bore a pretty solid resemblance to the women in our families, but the original portraits were of teenagers, however (and we are all squarely in our 30s), so we weren't sure how it would turn out. It was really just a test concept for us, to see what could happen.
After I shot this in my living room, with the help of my good and kind (tolerant) husband, I was stoked to start editing. I found the best image, converted to black and white, re-created some of the details, etc. I picked up my image to do a side by side comparison in Photoshop. My portrait accidentally dropped on top of my grandmother's portrait while trying to move it into place. I had put an opacity on my portrait because it was too high resolution and saturated, so it was a bit see-through, and I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw it sitting on top of the old portrait. I couldn't tell if I was seeing me, or if it was her I was looking at. It was eerie, thrilling, heartbreaking and spiritual, frankly. I immediately called my mom, sent her the image and waited... I didn't know if she would think it was weird or wonderful to see her daughter and mother like this, as one. She didn't think it was weird.
I decided to make the images into a triptych of sorts, and show the three separate portraits together, in the end. That wasn't the initial plan, but I love the combined portrait so much. I look at them and I see the people I know in the composited portrait. It's us, it's just us in a different era. Lindsey surprised her grandmother with their portrait at her last birthday, and I wish I could have done the same with my own grandmother, but I know she sees it, and I hope she thinks it's as neat as I do.
I think that a fine art portrait can be any number of things. This one is a tribute to my grandmother and a study in family resemblance. I miss my grandmother, and creating this image brought us together again. In a permanent way. I didn't want to dishonor who she was or the individual characteristics that made her so wonderful, but I can claim this woman, so a melded portrait of the two of us felt really good to me. She is mine, and I am hers, and this portrait is in her honor.
This is the second portrait we re-created, of Ali, who did her own hair and makeup for this shoot. This portrait is of she and her mother.