WHAT DEATH TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIFE THROUGH A CAMERA LENS

July 12, 2017

It will be three years come anuary 2018 since you've passed away. I'll never forget the last time I spoke to you was December 2015, two weeks before Christmas. Dad (my Father) was in the hospital for having a mini-heart attack (at least that's what they shared at the time), and I was the one that called to let you know that he was in there. I remember you asking how he was doing and what was going on. I also remember you saying, "Take care of my son." In that moment I never read into those words nor did I ever imagine that this would be the last time that I would speak to you. We both said, "I love you" (like we normal) and then ended the call. 

A few weeks later I was sleeping (out cold) and my Mother woke me up. She knows that I hate to be awakened as I have mild insomnia, and whenever she's woken me from a deep sleep (in the past) I get so startled that I normally raise up out of my bed like the Incredible Hulk. This time it was different. It was almost like God knew why she was waking me; that's how I like to look at it. When I opened my eyes and saw my Mother standing over me, she said, "Anesha, I need to tell you something." I looked at her and in hearing her tone I knew it wasn't good news. I honestly thought she was going to share that my Great-grandfather had passed away; not that I wanted him to pass away either. (SN: My great-grandfather is still alive and just turned 100 years old on June 6, 2017). 

 

When my mother touched my shoulder she looked me in my eyes and said, "Anesha, I need to tell you something. (pause) Grandma Tammy died." Everything froze for a moment. I heard what she said, but I didn't fully process it. My grandmother had been sick (physically), but last time I spoke with her she was doing better and she was doing what she was medically advised to do. I wasn't expecting to hear this because my grandmother was also supposed to move down to Florida and live with my Father that April before she died; so this was unexpected. After my brain finally processed what happened, I went to find my Father and hugged him. He was sitting at the computer looking up flights since we were living in Florida and my grandmother lived in New York. My Father and I didn't part words in that moment about my grandmother dying. My Dad is very stoic and I knew if I asked how he was feeling he'd just say, "I'm okay." I remember gathering photos of my grandmother shortly after that and doing whatever I could to help my Father in that moment. I couldn't be there emotionally for my Father like my mother could (as a wife), but I knew that I could help him gather what he needed. I guess the business mindset kicked in and my grandmother was also very organized so I knew I could use some of the things she taught me to help my father in this moment.We only had a few hours to pack and get on the first flight that we could catch. A snow storm was coming to New York and it was now or never as far as travel was concerned.  

​(My grandmother is wearing yellow in this photo).

By now you're probably wondering why I'm sharing this story - so here it is. My grandmother was 71 years old when she died. Still young and in my opinion she still had a life to live, but God saw otherwise. I have many memories of some beautiful moments that she was heavily a apart of and also the immense amount of support she gave me sine I was a little girl. One thing that I never saw or really paid attention to when she was alive were her photos and videos. Out of respect for my Father and the rest of my family I have to skip some details that I would like to share, but I'm so grateful that she had photos and videos of the adventures and journey's she took in life. Some of her videos were so old. I was able to see my Father as a sixteen year old.

 

I never knew that my Grandmother traveled as much as she did. I know she went to Africa several times, but it was amazing to see pictures of her in Paris. That's right! She made it to Paris; I'm still dreaming of going there one day. She was an explorer and an adventurer. I never sat down with her to talk about these trips, but I have pictures of her and that is so much better than not knowing at all. My Father and I found old projector slides in her basement, and that's how we discovered some of these images and videos. We even found and old camera. You know my heart did a million backflips when he pulled it out of the closet to show me. All of the years that I spent playing pool in her basement, I never looked in her closet where these beautiful heirlooms were hidden. 


My grandmother lived right around the corner from Port Richmond HighSchool located in Staten Island, New York. A lot of people knew my Grandmother because she was retired. She would go to the local market store where the Community Pool Hall was. She was still very young at heart and loved Italian food. I guess that's where I get it from. She also loved Ritz Crackers. I love them too, lol.

 


The Reconnect | Heirlooms

A few months had passed and it was now time to sell her house. My Father and I drove from Florida to New York; 13 hours straight with barely any breaks since there were two drivers- we made it in records timing. We talked about different things, my life, how he was doing, my Grandmother's funeral, family, and the future moving forward. We stayed at a hotel in New Jersey and the next day we drove to Staten Island. I knew that this would be the last time that I would ever step foot into my grandmother's house. I took this as an opportunity to capture images of her home because pictures last a lifetime, and I will now have these photographs I'm about to share forever. 
 


One thing that I love about my photographic style is that I have an eye for natural and candid moments. My father has no idea that I was taking this photo. He was sitting on the front steps of my grandmother's house in deep thought. Can you imagine what it must feel like to be in his position? I have no idea what it's like to loose a parent and I'm honestly not ready for; though I don't think anyone ever is. 
 

I'm also very close to my Father so even though he's not very 'emotional' on the outside, I know he's holding a lot of it on the inside and that is where him and I tend to connect more. This picture also represents him as a Father. Always providing and taking care of his family which I know his mother is very proud of. 

 


In this photo are the footprints of an amazing woman. She laughed here. She cried her. She read her. She watched television here.

 

She read her Bible here. These are her footprints. I am honored to have known a woman as smart and as beautiful as her. I hope to one day fill her shoes. 


 

In this photo stand my Father as he opens the curtains in my Grandmother's room to let some natural light in. It would be the last time that I would step foot into her bedroom which used to be complimented by white furniture.

 

I hate to give you the wrong description of what this actuallt is, but I know it had a thermometer and a compass. It was the first thing you'd see on the wall by the closet at the front door. 
 


These are my grandmother's curtains in the front of the house. She had barred windows that were were on the outside and covered by these old-fashioned curtains. She's had these curtains since I was a baby. I remember struggling to pull them up as a child. They probably have their own story to tell for as long as they've been in her home. amount of years that they've been in her home.

 

The infamous chandelier. Maybe it's the artist in me, but I saw some significance that only one-light bulb worked when we turned it on. I felt like she was with us when we were getting the house ready to be sold. She was making sure we did it right. 

 

Here's the black lamp and end table next to the couch my Grandmother sat in often. She had this orange carpet forever. I think she coordinated the rest of her decor around this organs carpet. The couch isn't visible in this photo; it was already disposed by this time. 

 

"A House Blessing". She has this sign in her kitchen.  grandmother also carried a Bible in her purse that I now have. It's a small green Bible that I found in her purse when she had passed away. It was in a side-pocket of the purse next to her lipstick.

 

Migrating further into the kitchen you'll see her stove, microwave, and kitchen-wall artwork. I took pictures of these items because while her microwave was pretty modern her stove wasn't and years from now my nieces and nephew will get to see what a stove looked like that back in the day. The '831" on the microwave is significant. It's her birthday- August 31st.

 

 

 



This was the hallway that my grandmother would walk down everyday to open the front door, head to the kitchen, or sit on the couch to watch some television. 

 


I love this photo of my Father sitting in his old bedroom. This is where he grew up as a child and watched Bruce Lee (his favorite). I'm sure he also listened to QUEEN (another one of his favorites) in this room too. I got a little emotional taking this photo because I felt like I was looking at my father in this moment as the young boy.

 
Let's talk about her rotary phone! When I was young I didn't know how to use a phone like this, so I would place my fingertip inside the hole for each number. I'll never telling t grandmother "her phone was broken." She laughed so loud because I didn't know what to do, but then she showed me how to do it. After that she couldn't get me off the phone.  

 

 


We actually found the next item in the photo I'm about to share when we did the first cleaning for her home. This was shortly after she died. When I found this I teared up. I wrote this letter in 1993. I was probably still learning cursive, but I immediately broke down in tears. Not because of my bad handwriting, but because she kept it all these years. She kept everything I gave her; even my first album (I was going to be the next Alicia Keys). It's for reasons like this why tangible items like Heirlooms (photo albums and more) really matter. Digital files are great, but they don't replace the feeling of touching and reconnecting with family or friends through a physical product; especially if they are no longer with you. 

My grandmother had a significant scent. She always wore Clinique and Fan Fair lipstick. This is my grandmother's lipstick case, her actually lipstick, her eyeglasses and a sample of the perfume that she always wore. Whenever I smell Clinique Perfume I think of her. I am frozen in time and a slideshow of memories begins to play.
 

We made our way down to the basement which is where my Father found an old camera. This is where my Father found this Minolta camera (on the left.) It was accompanied by slides for a projector wrapped in a comfy blanket. My eyes lit up immediately. My grandmother never saw Unashamed Imaging blossom into what it is. She knew I was always goal oriented, but she didn't know that I was running a successful business. When we found this camera it made me feel more connected to her. It was this camera that captured a lot of memories that I was able to see. She even kept the camera bag; it's in great condition. I plan on bringing this film camera with me to my next wedding. I feel like it's a great way to have my grandmother with me.  ​
 

We found this old Polaroid camera and more boxes of the projector slides. These discoveries were amazing!

 

 To the woman that always believed in me no matter what and taught me so much about being a smart female- this is for you. To the woman that told me to keep my head up on a store and to not let anyone degrade your intelligence-this one is for you. To the readers, maybe you're a couple in planning (for a wedding) or maybe you're looking to update your Family Heirlooms. Let this story remind you of why it's important to have family heirlooms (like photo albums and prints) that you can treasure as memories and pass on to the next generation. 

 

My grandmother leaves behind two children that will continue her legacy, two amazing grandchildren (myself and my brother), and three great-grandchildren. Though writing this brought me to tears, it was happy tears. I know my grandmother's strengths and her weaknesses and they both taught me so much about life. I will always remember her words of encouragement and the trips we tok to South Carolina for family reunions. It was because of her that I learned about my family's history; even the picking of cotton. Yes, I picked cotton before and I wasn't ashamed. It was a part of my family history and we've come so far from that. 

In closing, here's a tribute video I shot in honor of my grandmother. We sent up some purple balloons for her. She loved the color purple. The color of royalty which she was. 

Love and miss you Grandma. Picture perfect. 

 


- Anesha <3

 

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Anesha Collins is well recognized photographer and cinematographer currently based in Orlando Florida.
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