I got to know Grace and her family in April of 2019. Her nephew, Michael, introduced us. Grace was turning 100 that June and Michael wanted me to make her a special birthday present, a book documenting her lifelong achievements in art.
This was the beginning of us. From the very beginning, I had no doubt this stooped old lady who laughed loudly and occasionally spoke swear words was an absolute artist. Her paintings and sculptures filled every corner of the house. Even the house itself was an architectural masterpiece she and her husband had designed. She was a pistol, constantly questioning, commenting and joking (including a smidge of good-humored sarcasm). It gave me the idea to get to know her more as a person -- not just as an artist.
Grace lives alone. Both her husband Sam and her eldest daughter Gail had died several years ago. Paula, her younger daughter, had settled on the west coast many years before. Her step grandson, Jared, lives nearest to her. He works in New York City as a model. Jared visits her in Maryland once every one or two months. After starting work on her art book, I became her most frequent visitor.
Whenever I called her, I would ask, “how are you?” She would never respond “I’m fine” as most people do. Sometimes she replied, “Not well.” Sometimes she answered, “Feeling bad.” Until I learned that Grace had previously fallen off a chair and lay on the floor for half an hour before she had the strength to stand up again did I realize she wasn’t just complaining for no reason like a child. She had endured the pain from her deteriorating body year after year and hated her faded face — she often stopped me from photographing her. “I look terrible now,” she told me.
In this project, I documented Grace’s life in the months before and after her 100th birthday, including her grand 100th birthday party. I was trying to express her deep connection to art, her loneliness, her needs, her weakness in the face of aging and her fear of death.
*Photo series “Gi-Gi” won the 2019 International Photography Awards (IPA)