I still remember accompanying my mother and grandmother to a portrait studio on Staten Island in the 1980s. The trip wasn’t for an actual portrait session, but instead to have a portrait of my grandmother from the 1920s restored. At the time, I don’t think I truly understood how much this photograph meant to my grandmother, or why she loved a picture of herself so much, but then again I was only about 9 years old at the time. I remember that the photograph was cracked in many places and a few pieces had broken off, but as my grandmother pieced it back together in the studio, you could hear in her voice how important this photograph was to her.
My grandmother was born in 1914, raised in Brooklyn, NY, and she was the oldest daughter of 9 children. When she was about 8 years old, she received her First Holy Communion. It was a very special day, and even though her parents did not have a lot of money, they still purchased a beautiful Communion dress for her to wear that day.
It was her father who decided that she looked so beautiful and wonderful in that dress that he had to capture and save that moment in time. He told her mother that he wanted to take her to a local professional photographer for a portrait session. I can just about hear my great-grandmother’s response to his suggestion (complete with her Irish brogue), and telling him that they couldn’t afford something like that, but he insisted. I think part of why my grandmother loved the photograph so much is simply because she remembers her father telling her how beautiful she looked, and she felt so loved by her parents.
My grandmother was trying to recall the exact colors of the flowers and additional details in the portrait, as the portrait studio offered to colorize the image during restoration. We stayed there for quite some time trying to decide the best colors to pick for each item. My mother kept talking about how much she also loved this portrait, because she could see the resemblance between me and my grandmother at that age.
The portrait was restored beautifully, framed and she proudly hung the photograph in her home. It was a timeless gift that her parents had given her. I can’t think of many gifts or presents that can still stir your emotions over 70 years later.
I don’t think my great-grandfather could have imagined the gift he was giving to future generations of his family simply by taking his little girl to a local photographer to have her portrait taken on her Communion Day. I doubt he knew that 90 years later his own grandson would proudly display this image in his home, and someday one of his great-grandchildren will add this to their home (yes, hopefully me).
Have you ever seen a 90 year old portrait? Have you ever imagined that the photos and images you make today could be hanging on your grandchildren’s or even great-grandchildren’s walls?
If you ever thought about arranging a family or children’s portrait session, but you weren’t sure if it was something you really wanted to do – just think about this 90 year old portrait and remember that the photographs taken during your session are not only for you, but are an opportunity to show your children how wonderful they are, how much they mean to you, and how happy you are together as a family. And you will hopefully be able to share those photographs, moments and emotions with future generations of your family, too.
Thanks to my great-grandfather, we all have had the opportunity to see how beautiful my grandmother looked in her dress on her Communion Day.