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INSPIRED BY NANA | a newlywed prom

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INSPIRED BY NANA | a newlywed prom

I grew up with a framed, black and white portrait of my grandparents hanging on our living room wall. It was right by the family computer desk, where I spent too many hours playing, so I was very familiar with that picture. He was in a suit, she was in a white formal gown. There are hints of fancy decor around the edges. For the longest time, I figured it must be a picture from their wedding. I was wrong! Years later I learned that the picture is from their 1956 prom. But the thing you ought to know about the prom photo is….

… that they were already married!

He was senior class president, she was class secretary. Together they were a part of the morning announcements, senior prom committee, and were in the running to be King and Queen.

GRAMPS: My best friend was the king and Nana’s best friend was the queen. [But] of course, all the kids, all the members of our class, were all upset because they wanted it to be us. But the school didn’t want it.

Because, they were married.

In December, they had been married in a small wedding ceremony where Nana wore a white dress suit and the next month they attended senior prom where she wore a formal white gown. Since they were living together, there was no need for Gramps to come pick her up at the door of her mother’s home. They simply hopped in backseat of their friend’s car (they themselves carless) and made their way to Milford High’s “Stairway to the Stars.” They would have walked in to see the spiral staircase that Gramps’ recent stepfather Carl made for the event, complete with “wire netting and cotton candy stuffing for clouds” so that the seniors “could really walk up it into the clouds [where] we hung stars”.

Being the married couple at the senior prom wasn’t all hearts and stars. I asked Gramps if he had any particularly fond memories from the event (he said the afterparty) and then if there were any particularly negative memories.

GRAMPS: I think the only negative thing was [the papers] made a big deal about us being married, you know. They would come in... and want to take a picture of the married couple. They would try to get in there, make it a big deal, trying to capitalize on the event. We made the newspapers. I think my mother somewhere probably has an article from the newspaper (laughs).

Nana’s presence at the prom as a married woman did not go unnoticed and it did not happen in vain. In that time, married women had not been allowed to continue school. Using their connections in the community and being in the class presidency, Nana and Gramps petitioned for her to finish her senior year. They brought the issue directly to the Board of Education - and they agreed. Not only Nana, but another female student who was married that year was allowed to stay as well. One student who left to have a baby was permitted to return. The norms were changed.

GRAMPS: All because of Nana.

GRAMPS: The thing is that if you look at that picture, I think, mom’s hand, you can see the wedding ring on her hand.

And I am fortunate enough to be the recipient of that ring after Nana passed away in 2007. I kept her ring in the red, velvet mortuary bag since the day it was handed to me when I was sixteen. I always knew that I would use it as my own wedding ring one day. And I did! I should add that in true Gramps nature, he approached me after my wedding ceremony and said, “You know, I’ve been trying to remember what I did with that thing!”

We were able to use Nana’s original ring from that original prom picture in this photoshoot. To add another layer of connection between her marriage and mine, we used my original veil from my 2012 wedding in the shoot as well.

I searched high and low for the perfect vintage dress to go with these pictures. Something that felt “prom” just as much “wedding” like Nana’s prom photo does. I was only working off my memory off the prom photo, which I hadn’t seen in years, but when the listing for this dress came up on my screen, I knew it was the one. A month later I was able to track down that original prom photo and it truly was a perfect match.

If the thought crossed your mind, “My goodness this girl looks to young to be modeling a bridal look!” 1) you’re right but also 2) I purposefully chose someone the same age Nana had been when she was married in 1955.

We drove out to a quaint historic schoolhouse for the shoot. It’s all a little bit prom, a little bit bridal, and all at a little pink school house. This was the project I set out to do this summer and I’m so happy it’s all here.

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INSPIRED BY GRANDMA | Grandma Kaiser and the nudists

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INSPIRED BY GRANDMA | Grandma Kaiser and the nudists

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INSPIRED BY GRANDMA | Grandma Kaiser and the nudists

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.

EMILY: Awesome.

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.

vintage_grandma_inspired_004.jpg

EMILY: Yes.

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!!!!

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INSPIRED BY NANA | a newlywed prom

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SYLVIA+CHANDLER | with a vintage red Valentine's dress

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SYLVIA+CHANDLER | with a vintage red Valentine's dress

Don't you dare tell me that Valentine's Day was created by Hallmark! I would rather believe that it was created by someone feeling the winter blues looking for a reason to have a day full of hearts and cheesey love and the color pink. You can choose to love or hate Valentines, but I think loving it a lil' makes it a lot more fun! 

You know that my biggest push as The Anniversary Photographer is to promote that you DON'T need to be engaged or in a wedding dress to validate cute pictures. This made my cousin Sylvia and her boyfriend Chandler the perfect couple to photograph for this "sweethearts" themed Valentine's Day shoot! They met in high school and have been together ever since and they are very cute and very much high school sweethearts! And - oh look - she's wearing a sweetheart neckline dress. The word play never ends! 

We were fortunate enough to borrow use this CRAZY AMAZING vintage red ballgown from my friend Whitney (she is also a photographer!). We paired the look with shades of red and pink, delicate florals, cozy blankets, mountains, evergreens, fluffy clouds and a light snow fall. I dare you to try to think of a better recipe than that! I dare you! 

Radiant hair and makeup by Kait Parkinson MUA - someone who I would gladly pay to come prep me every morning if I could. Professional hair and makeup makes a HUGE difference and I recommend it to anyone, even if it's just anniversary or sweetheart pictures! 

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MYUNGHEE+BRIAN | for realsies a red hanbok in a golden dream forest my eyes are exploding it is so beautiful
PEYTON+JEFF | that empty misty Yellowstone morning that fed my soul

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