Grandmas go glam for photo session
FARGO – Grace Nelson, 89, whispers to 92-year-old Irene Klenow.
"You look really pretty," she says.
Klenow is wearing a colorful, feathery hat and a brown fur stole. She poses for the camera.
"It feels exciting," Klenow says. "It's been a long time since I've had my photo taken."
Klenow was one of several residents at Fargo's Touchmark at Harwood Groves who were photographed by Bonnie Maley of Oakes.
The retired cosmetologist travels to nursing and retirement homes photographing the elderly. She brings hats, furs, jewelry and other accessories to adorn residents. Maley's coined her photos "Glammy Pics."
"I'll put a hat on them and they'll say, 'I've never had a hat on' or 'I've never had a fur on.' They feel like a million dollars," she says. "It gives them a minute of joy that lasts a lifetime."
Maley abides by the philosophy that more is more, layering accessories on the men and women she photographs. She doesn't apply makeup or fix their hair, instead using Photoshop to add nail polish or makeup if people request it. Each person receives two versions of their portrait—one with their wrinkles smoothed and touched up, and another without edits.
People always choose the unedited photo, Maley says.
"Every person has a story in their face," she says. "You earn those wrinkles. It's beautiful."
Maley's been a photographer for about eight years and a cosmetologist for more than 30 years. She says her background has given her the "gift of gab and ability to spread sunshine."
She started Glammy Pics when a friend who worked at a retirement home asked her for resident activity ideas. Maley offered to take their photos, charging $5 a person to help cover travel costs.
"I just love taking pictures. I think when you're affiliated with someone in a manor, you see the sadness. It isn't that nobody cares, but people do the same thing over and over and over," she says. "This is something completely different that gives them a little joy."
Sometimes, residents resist wearing hats, scarves, jewelry, etc., but Maley usually persuades them to try. They leave the photoshoot smiling.
"It's important for them to look beautiful, glowing. It's something that is forgotten," she says.
Maley's mother Grace Nelson, who's a Touchmark resident, enjoys having her photo taken and complimented all the men and women who were in front of her daughter's camera.
"I think it's great. It makes me feel important," Nelson says.
The April day Maley was at Touchmark, she photographed 26 residents. Anna Lawler, the memory care life enrichment coordinator at Touchmark, says residents initially aren't sure if they want to be photographed. But once they see others doing it, they want to try it, too.
"It builds them up," Lawler says.
Maley keeps a photo of everyone she meets and remembers how they react seeing themselves in print and how their family members react, too.
"When their children see the pictures they go, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe that's my mom or my dad,' " Maley says.
Her images are usually one of the last photos people have of their loved one and are often used for obituaries. Maley recalls photographing a woman who had just finished chemotherapy. The woman was unsure if she wanted to have a Glammy Pic but Maley assured her it'd be fun.
For one photo, Maley told her to blow a kiss. She died not long after the photoshoot. Her children consider the photo a treasure left by their mother.
"I get so emotional talking about the people I've photographed," Maley says. "It's such a gift."
If people can't leave their bed for photos, Maley goes to them. One man who was bedridden loved the Minnesota Twins so Maley used Photoshop to create a Twins jersey and hat on his photo and then created baseball trading cards for him.
"This is the most rewarding thing in the world," Maley says. "They can come in sad, not feeling good about their appearance, and by the time they leave, they're happy. It's a transformation of somebody caring and just taking time."
To contact Maley, email firstname.lastname@example.org.