Art Beat: Grandmothers Of America | WMUK

Art Beat: Grandmothers Of America

Sep 2, 2021

The photographers with a grandmother featured in their project
Credit Courtesy Grandmothers of America

Two friends in Grand Rapids who are photographers wondered what the most powerful photograph they could capture would be.

Joey Schultz and Johnny Hanson have traveled the world, training their eyes on the beauty around them. But inspired by their grandmothers, and their powerful influence on their respective families, the two decided to travel around the U.S., taking portraits of the "Grandmothers of America."

Along with the photos, they asked every grandmother the same question: “What advice would you give your younger self?”

“We took four tours, about a month long each,” Schultz says. Hanson adds, “We divided the country into quadrants. We started in the Southwest, then Southeast … then Northeast, all up the Eastern Seaboard, then our last tour was up in the Northwest.”

The photographers found their initial approach to women unwelcome. Anyone asking to take someone's picture seemed suspect. But when they began by asking for advice, they had more success. Almost all the grandmothers, aged 36 to 106, agreed to have their photos taken.

When the pair asked what advice the women would give their younger selves, Schultz says, “I didn’t fully understand the expectations on marriage from a young age on these women. A lot of the advice was, 'Don’t get married so young. Spend more time for yourself. Explore the world. Get an education.'”

Another message the photographers wanted to capture in their photos was that there's beauty in every age and every type, and to honor these women.

“One of the most important parts of this project for me was to redefine, not only in myself but also within this work and the viewer of this work, the definition of aging and beauty,” Hanson says. “We’re constantly bombarded with what is beautiful, and as a portrait and street photographer, I find beauty in all shapes and sizes and faces and lines.”

Compiling around 260 photos, the two photographers are in the process of putting their book together. They're seeking the funding needed to publish it with donations. The book is expected to be available in fall 2021.

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