Are your childhood memories scattered with odd, fragmented pieces of family stories that you've never quite heard in their entirety? You're not even sure it's factual in the slightest? I love those little nugget stories. I love all stories and the main goal of my photography is to preserve stories - those of couples, spouses, families, all of it. So when the idea popped into my head to turn one of my own family's nugget stories into a very loosely based theme for a portrait shoot, it didn't take long to get the ball rolling. I told my sister about the idea, the next day we were thrifting for the outfit and the vintage camera, and the next day we were shooting. In the middle of all that, I finally had the conversation with my mom to confirm whether or not GRANDMA KAISER AND THE NUDISTS actually happened... so here's the story.
MOM: Grandma and Pop Pop didn’t like to drive. Pop Pop would fly, but Grandma didn’t like to fly… so they basically didn’t go anywhere. We didn’t go anywhere growing up… [but] they decided to take us on a family vacation and it was only in Middletown, which was like a 45 minute drive.
EMILY: Like to the beach?
MOM: No, it was in Middletown.. like in the middle of the state. And they had this little family resort there-
EMILY: OOOH. Like in Dirty Dancing.
MOM: Yeah! Yeah.
MOM: They had cabins, you know, kinda nice cabins. They had a lake and a pool, and they had a lodge, and it must have been about 1969.
MOM: *Looks directly into my eyes*
MOM: And that was the time of the hippies.
MOM: And they happen to be marching through Middletown when we were there - oh! And it was called “Happy Acres!” You can Google it. That was the name of the resort.
MOM: And so… we were, you know, there, and all of a sudden these hippies came marching down the road and they saw that there was a pond off to the side and they... some of them... took off all their clothes… and jumped in it!
MOM: And Grandma snapped a couple ‘a shots of ‘em.
EMILY: That's a really good story.
EMILY: …what did she do with the pictures?
MOM: She put them in the photo album!
MOM: And you know what too? It was like off in the distance, the people, and you know back then we didn’t have good cameras, you know, so it was like a little fuzzy and uh, the guy was like, you know, he wasn’t like..
EMILY: Up close?
MOM: Yeah, up close.
EMILY: That’s a really good story.
So there it is. As it turns out, that little nugget story from a vague childhood memory was..... actually the entire story. But I love it because it perfectly encapsulates the peculiar Grandma Kaiser that I remember. The main additional detail that really sparked our interest was that "Happy Acres" was akin to "Kellerman's" in Dirty Dancing. Even both in the 60s! My sister and I debated, "So, is Grandma Baby?" "Wait, no, she was the mom. That means OUR MOM was Baby." Omg.
Since our Grandma Kaiser would have been nearly 40 at the time, we decided to knock back her style a decade or so earlier - more alike to the style she would have been partial to from her young adulthood. Though it was made clear that Happy Acres was not a beach resort ("Middletown... like in the middle of the state") we took some artistic liberty there keep the whole scheme with a sepia-esque warmth all over, from the lighting, the sand, to the color palette of the outfit.
And because I have an affinity for any IMDB Trivia page, here's a few random fun facts...
- We lucked out finding a vintage Baldina camera that aligns with the time era that Grandma Kaiser would have been buying a camera. Baldina is a German camera company and our family history is heavily German. My sister (in this shoot) is named HEIDI for goodness sake and I just got Emily?!
- The old photos you see scattered through this post are from Grandma Kaiser and Pop Pop's wedding day in 1961. Grandma Kaiser passed away in 2008 and Pop Pop joined her almost exactly 10 years later.
- My sister was the natural choice for this shoot, especially given the fact that out of the three siblings in our family, she tends to look most like our Kaiser relatives.
- And one last shout out to Heidi the German sister model, because as warm and glowy and gold these pictures look, it was SO COLD. The wind on the Long Island Sound in March is not kind. But I can't deny I love the way the wind tousled those grandma curls. Worth. It.
- I have yet to see the photos that Grandma Kaiser took of the nudists, but somewhere in some box... they exist.
- UPDATE THE PICTURE REALLY DOES EXISTS. View HERE!!!!