Personal | Portraits of My Grandfather 2007 - 2019, Part I & II
When I was 11 years old my grandfather took some less than flattering photos of me one morning. I swore revenge, and what originally was meant to be a game of teasing turned into the longest portrait series I’ve ever shot. Collected below are a few of my favorite portraits of him, taken specifically between 2007 and 2019, although I do have shots that date back further - most of them were taken on a Razr so I’ll spare you that pixelated mess. Part I of this post is the culmination of these images. Part II is the day of his memorial service. This is all still quite fresh and I honestly don’t have a lot to say about it yet. Some days I feel normal and some days I don’t. It’s quite long, but I’ll leave you with the eulogy I delivered at his service:
When I very young my grandmother told me I had my grandad's eyes. Slightly horrified by this notion I asked "You mean he gave them to me?!" While my eyes were in fact my own- as I was so relieved to discover- my grandad did have great influence over my view of the world and finding my way within it.
Growing up, my grandad was an incredibly important figure. Easily the strongest male influence in my life, he took on the rolls of teacher, rescuer, provider, and handyman. He taught me how to change a tire, use a soldering iron, and build a birdhouse. He took me fishing, camping, biking, to dive restaurants, and art museums. He helped me get my first job, find my first car, and moved me into my college dorm.
As a child he inspired curiosity and ambition, and represented a power and intellect I aspired to. He introduced me to hard concepts, showed me places I would have never otherwise discovered, and taught me some very strange vocabulary words - whether I wanted to learn them or not. He was scientific, worldly, and intelligent in the best possible way.
Throughout my life I've learned so much from him, and I know he has left a lasting impact on others as well. Like the principle who expelled him, for bringing a frozen skunk to school, and his mother who begged said principle to let him back in. His grandmother who he showered with ashes after he put newspaper in the furnace to- and I quote- "warm her up." Or my father who he tricked into flying his plane for an hour and a half while he took a nap. My father was not a pilot and when he relayed this story to me he said he didn't know it possible to not blink for an hour and half straight.
I could continue for awhile here. I have an endless archive of family stories detailing his infamous orneriness. But beyond his teasing and at times domineering exterior my grandad was playful - On a freezing winters day when I was 6 years old I stayed home from school. Being a child of a single, working mother she dropped me off at my grandparents house. I wasn't above playing hooky, and evidently neither was my grandad because he bundled me up and took me to the zoo. He carried me from building to building in the cold showing me animals and displays.
My grandad was adventurous - At 14 he decided to show me the tunnels beneath the city. Only having a idea of how to get in we went down some stairs and ended up walking several city blocks underground. We passed workers, construction blocks, and got stopped by several security guards along the way.
But perhaps most importantly, my grandad was sentimental - When I was 16 he took me on a ride to Pawhuska, OK. A town which he had formerly called home. We ate at a local diner, and drove by old homes of family and friends. All the while he told me stories of the people who lived here or there. Names of those I neither recognized nor cared about, but I remember the prairie.
The striking blue of mid January sky meeting the curvature of miles of yellow earth. That blue looked like his blue; the blue of his eyes and the blue of mine. I remember watching the sea of tallgrass ebb and flow in the breeze, the weathered trees and sporadic bison. How a toothpick hung from between his lips and a classical piece played on the radio. Mozart perhaps, and Tschovisky was his favorite composer- but I always remember it as Beethoven. Like Beethoven my grandfather had a volatile and intimidating exterior. My grandad wasn't always the most approachable person. Beneath this front, whether he would admit it or not, he was a romantic, who composed an adventurous life of meaning and fulfillment.
A trickster, a traveler, a science fair champion, a petroleum engineer, a PC builder, an antique radio restorer, a hero, a father, a friend, a romantic was he.
P A R T I
P A R T II